I found a Swingball set in our shed today that I had forgotten was there, and given that the weather was so great I figured I’d get it out and give it a go with the family.
I must admit, I got more than the five minutes of fun out of it that I had expected. It actually scratched an itch I did not realise I still had, and made me pine for my summers playing tennis, which is a sport I reluctantly let go of a few years back after having played it consistently – and at a fairly competent level – for over two decades.
At least tennis affords you a proper tool for the job. Those undersized plastic bats are extremely unforgiving, and I won’t be surprised if there’s a blister the size of a dinner plate on the side of my thumb when I wake up tomorrow… but it was worth it for laughs we had.
Of course, this year is a bust for tennis (this year is a bust for most things), but maybe I’ll get my racket out of the garage and smack a few balls against the wall anyway.
With the cancellation of Wimbledon this year there has been an absence of tennis in my summer schedule, but these biographies (along with the TV coverage culled from the archives) have helped fill the gap. After a healthy dose of Jimmy Connors in his own book last month I figured where better to go than to his nemesis John McEnroe, and his own book from 2002.
If you are coming to this biography expecting the wild bandanna-wearing loose cannon from his heyday in the early eighties, you may leave a little disappointed. Johnny Mac has chilled in his later years, and this is a reflective look at a more mellow character a decade removed from retirement. He’s aware of his faults (pun intended), and he knows the tantrum-throwing and the racquet-hurling is a large part of his schtick, and why audiences have stuck around with him for so long, and he although he doesn’t excuse his actions, he does at least attempt to explain where he was coming from.
But, histrionics aside, John McEnroe is one of the greatest players the sport has ever known. In 1984 (inarguably the best year of his career) he played 85 matches and lost only 3, which is still the best winning percentage any player has ever had.
He spends some time discussing his sometimes brutal marriage to actress Tatum O’Neal, as well as his even more brutal loss to Ivan Lendl in the final of the French Open in 1984. One thing he shares with Connors is his outright admiration for Bjorn Borg whose retirement from the game in 1981 at the age of just 26 opened the door for McEnroe to become the guy that all the others were chasing. We should all wonder how the tennis scene would have developed in the eighties had the Swede continued.
Give this one a look if you want to check out the life and career of someone who many describe as the first true genius of the tennis court.
I recently finished reading Jimmy Connors’ autobiography, The Outsider, published in 2013. It was a great insight into a fiery and fascinating character – truly one of the biggest names in tennis in the seventies and eighties.
I started watching the sport when his career was winding down, but I still caught a lot of his matches before he hung up the sneakers for good. Even as a kid who had never picked up a racket at that time, I understood his passion for the game and I admired his full-throated desire to win at all costs. Like him or not, he really was an inspirational player.
True to his image Connors had a lot to say about a lot of people – from his ill-fated relationship with Chris Evert, to his respect for Bjorn Borg. Apart from some light-hearted jabs there was little vitriol – even for John McEnroe, a player he famously butted heads with constantly throughout their professional playing careers. There is also a heartfelt chapter towards the end about his friend and fellow player Vitas Gerulaitis, who tragically died at the too-young age of forty.
Even now, Connors has much love for the game, but what really comes across in his words is how close he was to both his mother and grandmother, both of whom had passed on when this biography was written.
I don’t read many biographies, but this is well-worth a read if you enjoy the sport, and if you appreciate the insight of someone who was at the top of the mountain for longer than most.
Because I was driving to my tennis match after work last week, when the sublime intro for Black Cat – my favourite JJ song – came on the radio, just as I was approaching a junction. I knew I was supposed to go straight ahead, but – because the volume was pinned to the max, and I was playing a rather awesome air guitar while I crawled through the rush-hour traffic – I took a left instead… which is the way I go at least once a day for work.
I was on auto-pilot, but left wasn’t going to get me there.
No problem, I thought. There will be a turn off soon, and I will just take that instead. So I went back to singing: all those lonely nights, I spend alone; never round to love me, you’re always gone, but when the song had finished, four-minutes-and-forty-seven seconds later, I was still driving at something approaching eighty miles an hour, along the same road, furiously looking for my exit.
I eventually took a random exit just to get me off the road I knew to be wrong, and fumbled my way back to where I was meant to be twenty minutes ago. This was followed by a terrifying journey along what must be one of the narrowest and most convoluted roads in the British Isles, to get to the tennis courts…
…where we scraped a draw.
So, Janet: if you’re reading this, just round it up to £2 and we’ll call it even. Thanks.
* calculations available upon request.