The Whining Tennis Player

 John Patrick McEnroe Jr. is a former professional tennis player. His volley and shot-making skills are what started his career, while his confrontational and controversial behavior contributed a lot to his notoriety. Throughout the course of his professional career, McEnroe was frequently represented in the media for his tantrums and ego issues, which naturally caused him a lot of trouble with the umpires of his matches as well as the tennis authorities in general. 

However, there is no doubt that John McEnroe is a player with a lot of talent and skill. His achievements in the court to date include the following: 

  • A No.1 ranking in the world within the categories of both doubles and singles
  • A career total of 78 doubles titles and 77 singles titles
  • The highest combined total for men in the Open Era
  • The only male tennis player to have above 70 titles in both categories
  • 7 Grand Slam singles titles, 3 at Wimbledon and 4 at the US Open. 
  • 1 Grand Slam mixed doubles title at the French Open
  • A match record in singles in 1984 with a score of 82-3, which is still the best win rate for single in the Open Era
  • Excellent performance in year-end tournament, with record-holding singles and doubles titles 
  • Named the ITF World Champion and ATP Player of the Year three times (in 1984, 1983, and 1981)
  • Active contribution in 5 Davis Cup titles for the United States, and also served as team captain

While John McEnroe is retired now, he remains quite active in his sport. Tennis fans can see him in senior events, especially those with the ATP Champions Tour. Along with appearing in a few advertisements, he was also a television commentator at one point. 

The Title of Superbrat

The Title of Superbrat

While there is no doubt that McEnroe has some impressive athletic achievements, his behavior on the court has always threatened to take over his overall image. One good example of this is his ‘Superbrat’ title, which was given to him by the British tabloids. 

During his career, McEnroe’s controversial outbursts meant that the media usually perceived and presented him as a whining and petulant player. Even today, articles about him cannot separate the antics he showed on court from his talented playing. 

A Brief Look into McEnroe’s Early Life

John McEnroe came from a wealthy and respected family; his father was an Air Force Officer for the United States. The tennis player was brought up on the Gold Coast in Long Island. While he did have a luxurious suburban life, it was quickly clear that he wasn’t any ordinary rich boy. 

At a very young age, McEnroe was able to impress his tennis instructors by making very difficult shots. As a result, he joined a renowned tennis academy for the elite. However, the academy had to expel him for his negative behavior. 

Later on, McEnroe would attend Stanford University. He made his Wimbledon debut in 1977, and became the youngest male player to get to the semifinals. The following year, he turned pro. 

The King of Ego

Another media title for John McEnroe was ‘The King of Ego’. He earned this by going to extremes when he lost a match. While no athlete really ever likes losing, McEnroe was one of the few who treated the situation abnormally. When things weren’t going his way, he would act petulant, display an acid tongue, and make sure everyone knew about his entitlement issues. 

One of the best examples of this behavior is seen in a very unlikely event. This was during an interview, where McEnroe wanted to give Rafael Nadal some advice. He basically wanted the younger player to show a bit of ego, saying that Nadal was downplaying his chances a bit too much. Here is an expert of his exact words: 

“There is definitely an argument for him [Nadal] not only being the best player at the moment, but the greatest of all time. Rafa has won things like the Davis Cup and an Olympic gold medal [in singles] that Roger Federer hasn’t, and he is right on his tail in terms of Grand Slam titles, too, so why can’t he just say, ‘Look, I’m the best?”

From these words, it is evident that he sees excellence in a player as cause for pride and bragging. He fails to appreciate humility and wants other talented players to show the same ego he did. However, more recent interviews show that McEnroe has undergone some definite mellowing. Other statements of his show how he is now more down to earth, even stating that he never expected to be Number 1 while growing up. 

Examples of McEnroe’s Tantrums

The temper tantrums of John McEnroe were and still are known for being memorable and hard-hitting. During one such outburst during the Australian Open in 1990, he was ejected from the event, becoming the first player to be removed from Grand Slam events in almost three decades. This was just one of the many controversial moments he was responsible for throughout his career in tennis. 

In the summer of 1977, McEnroe was in Paris to play the junior tennis event. However, he managed to qualify for the Grand Slam singles championship, his first of many. In these matches, he lost to Phil Dent in just the second round. Eventually, McEnroe and Carillo went on to win the Roland Garros mixed trophy. Around three weeks after that, McEnroe (then 18 year of age), qualified with the All England Club and got to the quarter finals. This was where he had to face Phil Dent again. As Carillo narrated, McEnroe went out to have pizza the night before the match. There, he told Carillo that he would leave tennis for good if he lost to Dent again. This was in spite of the fact that Dent was the No. 13 seed at the event. 

McEnroe then went on to beat Phil Dent in five sets. However, he also displayed some very bad behavior on the court alongside his playing. He used curse words, kicked his racket across the turf, and cried out that he wasn’t losing to this guy again. Eventually, John Connors, the top seed, would shut down McEnroe during the semi-finals by beating him in three sets. 

The Pressure on McEnroe

Tennis is said to be the king’s sport, and McEnroe certainly did do justice to it. He was far more advanced than kids older than him while growing up. Experienced observers would describe his strokes as very tidy and tight. He also had a very elevated awareness during any match, focusing on the court and the surroundings quite intensely. 

McEnroe was a semi-finalist in the Trinity University vs. Stanford University championship during the spring of 1978, though he wasn’t feeling very well at the time. The crowd comprised over 2000 people, all flocking to see the No. 2 team (Trinity) clash against the No. 1 team (Stanford University. The match was mixed doubles and stretched on for two days. 

One of the other players, Larry Gottfried, also had issues at the time as he wasn’t feeling confident about his playing. He played the opposite side to McEnroe, and had been a witness to his playing since the age of 12. Since McEnroe’s health wasn’t up to the mark, he lost that particular match. However, he only had one other loss in a single game, to Eddie Edward of South Africa. McEnroe’s college career ended by winning the team championship and the NCAA singles title for his university. 

According to Gottfried, this might have been the point where the pressure really started on John McEnroe. He was now a known name on the court, and expected to perform well no matter what. The pressure at the Trinity match was but a tiny fraction of what he must have felt in every single match during his career. 

Other players and coaches that have worked alongside McEnroe are also of the opinion that he was always focused on just one thing: winning. He didn’t much care about making a good impression, having patience, or compromising on the results he wanted. 

McEnroe’s very first proper coach, Tony Palafox, remembers how the tennis athlete would work hard and practice until he was sure of perfecting his grip or anything else related to his sport. While he listened carefully and picked up things quickly, he was just as likely to forget what he had learned quite rapidly as well. 

Carillo states that McEnroe’s brilliance on the court might be due to his own understanding that he was playing a world class game. Even when he was a junior taking part in senior events, his strokes were said to be always one step ahead of the other players. That level of talent and commitment is what led him to perform brilliantly in all the major tennis tournaments


To this day, John McEnroe retains his notoriety as an outspoken player who might be prone to whining. However, now that he has retired, his stance is definitely a bit softer than before. Those who have watched his playing closely know that he performs a bit differently than anyone else. Many aspiring tennis players want to imitate McEnroe’s style, but this has proven impossible. However, his criticism of younger players is still quite blatant, so he retains his reputation of being outspoken. 



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