Back in the 1970’s I was a teenager at Grammar School and a major sports fan. When the school organised a trip to watch the tennis as Wimbledon I was the first student to put my name down for a place. I don’t think that I was aware of just what a special era for the sport it was at the time but I do know that it has never been the same since, at least not for me, and that is mainly because of one player.
The school trip was a real eye opener. In those days, if you had a general entrance ticket for Wimbledon you could use this to access the standing areas on Court one and Centre Court. I ran like a train when I got past the entrance and managed to secure a place on Court one. I was astonished that the first match that I ever saw involved the great Jimmy Connors and the second match featured Ilie Nastase or “Nasty” as he was generally known. Nastase was legendary for his antics and I was gifted a real treat when it started to rain a little and he began playing to the crowd by asking for an umbrella. He was hilarious throughout the match and I was hooked on watching tennis as a result.
I enjoyed my visit so much that I returned to Wimbledon on subsequent days to see more. On my second visit I was leaving to make my way home and noticed a crowd forming around the Centre Court exit. Curious to see what was happening, I walked over to find that it was a mop headed teenager that was attracting all the attention. He wasn’t one of the stars so I asked the people around me what all the fuss was about and I was told that this guy had been making waves with his ability and his attitude and that his name was John McEnroe. I resolved that it would be him that I would watch on my next visit.
Once I started watching McEnroe I just couldn’t stop. His verbal outbursts and temper fits were incredible as was his game. I witnessed several arguments with the officials and a few incidences of racquet abuse and just couldn’t get enough of it. His fits of temper were well publicised, including the infamous “you cannot be serious” episode and the occasion when he attacked a floral display with his racquet.
I marvelled at how many racquets McEnroe was going through and wondered if he ever bothered to restring the equipment as he was likely to destroy it anyway. It crossed my mind to catch him outside to see if I could get one of those damaged racquets. It was my job to restring the school equipment so I figured that I could make one of his discarded models playable again. I never asked him and I regret that now.
I did get to meet Mr McEnroe, however, when he knocked me over accidently as I was waiting outside Wembley Arena before a tournament. He proved to be an extremely nice man. I was also privileged to be at his first Wimbledon final which he unfortunately lost to Bjorn Borg. In those days Tennis was so entertaining and the circuit was packed with amazing characters. It just wasn’t the same after McEnroe retired and I rarely go these days. A little questionable behaviour goes a long way!
Article by Sally Stacey