John McEnroe remembers the summer that changed his life forever

Kevin Palmer
John McEnroe
John McEnroe

Tennis legend John McEnroe believes young players do not appreciate how fortunate they are in the modern game, as he opened up on his first experience travelling to Europe.

McEnroe had big dreams when he made his first trip to Europe in 1977 to play in the French Open qualifiers, but the summer that would change his life forever started in a miserable fashion.

In an exclusive interview with Tennis365, McEnroe revealed the challenges he faced in his early career as he arrived in Paris unable to pay for a decent hotel.

“I remember the first time I came to Europe when I was the number one junior in the world and they gave me $500 for seven weeks,” said McEnroe, speaking to Tennis365 at an event to promote his biopic movie, McEnroe.

“They didn’t set up any hotel rooms, I didn’t have a coach and I was sent by myself, but I ended up reaching the semis of Wimbledon that summer and it changed by life.

“I missed my high school graduation, but I think in a way I was forced to grow up on my own. And I think that was better in a sense though. You had to learn how to get through it.

“Now it’s all different. The kids have coaches and media training at the age of 16, they don’t even know what they are about at 16.

“I don’t know how you even do that in a way, you have to let kids grow into themselves and figure out who they are, that’s more important than media training.

“In certain ways, it was too much. I remember I was trying to get a hotel room in Paris the night before I had to play the last round of qualifiers because I couldn’t afford to keep paying for the hotel where the main draw players were in.

“I remember going to a hotel where they didn’t speak English, there was a female tennis player who spoke French and helped me get the room for $4 a night and I didn’t sleep at all that night.

“It was only when I got through the main draw of the French Open that I could go to the main hotel where the players stayed. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about paying for hotels again after that.”

Despite those early obstacles, McEnroe made it through to the second round at the 1977 French Open and then had a career breakthrough at Wimbledon a few weeks later, as he made it through to the last four and instantly became one of the world’s biggest tennis stars.

McEnroe looks back on his career now with pride and admits his drive to become the best father he can be to his five children, after admitting they were not the focus of his attention at times in his life.

“Being the best dad is my biggest goal, I seriously think it should be everyone’s who decides to have children,” he added.

“It should be everyone’s biggest goal to be a good parent,” he continued. “If you’re a parent, if you decide to bring children into the world, even when I was 27, I had my first son, I felt like: Did I still want to be the best player in the world?

“Yes, did I aspire to be and want to improve? Well, I took time off in order to get better, you know, Rafael Nadal took six months off and won the Australian Open.

“I took six months off and laid an egg as I lost in the first round at the US Open. It was the only year I lost first round.

“I won’t get into the details of why (that happened) but for whatever combination of reasons, I wasn’t even ready to come back. But having said that, you know, I had two kids one at 27 and one at 28.

“What am I supposed to be like? ‘Oh, okay take care of the kids I gotta go deal with this situation here with the rankings?’ No, no, I was trying to do both to the best of my ability. But the first priority to me should be my kids, you know, or don’t have them.”

By: Lloyd Griffin