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by Tim Adams

Pub Date: April 5th, 2005
ISBN: 1-4000-8147-5
Publisher: Crown

How John McEnroe became a tempest of his own making.

Adams, the literary editor of Britain’s Observer and obviously a keen tennis appreciator, was initially drawn to McEnroe by the beauty of his game and by his canny ability to push, place, angle, and guide the ball by using its own pace. The author was equally intrigued by McEnroe’s real-time emotions and moral outrage, all very publicly on display at Wimbledon in the land of deference, in the most deferential of games. McEnroe was the Tom Paine of tennis, recognizing no one as his social superior and positioning himself for the same status on the court. Though Adams shows a natural descriptive talent for reporting with winning unpretentiousness on various great matches, what he has most fun with here is speculating on the motivations behind McEnroe’s behavioral antics. These admittedly conjectural explanations hit the nail on the head more often than not, sometimes only glancingly, more often dead on. Adams sees both social and psychological angles at play. On the social level, he draws parallels between McEnroe and Margaret Thatcher, in their distain for tradition, their scorched-earth style, and their winner-take-all spirit. He also characterizes McEnroe as the embodiment of Christopher Lasch’s Psychological Man, plagued by anxiety, vague discontents, and a sense of inner emptiness, with a touch of Robert Bly’s perpetual adolescent thrown in. These opinions are all buttressed by the comments of McEnroe himself, one of the rare sports figures who spoke candidly and offered original thoughts at press interviews. Adams also considers issues of money, marriage, and celebrity. But what finally sticks with the reader is McEnroe’s own words: “I was like a compulsive gambler, or an alcoholic. Anger became a powerful habit.”

A sharp little piece of sports journalism—and a fine journey through a spectacular, volcanic tennis career.