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John McEnroe is a world champion tennis player famous for his temperamental outbursts. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.
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That fall, McEnroe attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, on a tennis scholarship. He led the school's tennis team to the NCAA Championship in 1978. After his freshman year he decided to turn pro. In the summer of 1978, McEnroe was eliminated in the first round at Wimbledon but reached the semi-finals of the U.S. Open. By the end of that year,
he was ranked sixth in the world in singles and fifth in doubles. It was during this time that McEnroe began his long commitment to Davis Cup play (earlier seeds may have been planted by Palafox and Hop's involvement in the Davis Cup). Tony Trabert, then Davis Cup coach, took a risk with the 19-year-old McEnroe, who handled the pressure well, winning his matches against England to help clinch the first U.S. Davis Cup victory in six years. In the next four months, McEnroe won four singles championships, including an important (and portentous) victory over Bjorn Borg on his home turf in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1978, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) recognized him with a Newcomer of the Year Award and ranked him number four in the world, behind Borg, Connors and Vilas. In his first six months as a pro, he earned nearly half a million dollars.
After decisive victories over both Connors and Borg in 1979, McEnroe's playing style matured. It was an interesting contrast to the machine-gun like attacks of Connors and Borg. Like his idol, Rod Laver, McEnroe used finesse to keep his opponents off guard. His serve did not overpower, but he had extremely quick reflexes and an uncanny court sense—he seemed to know instinctively where to place his shots. Arthur Ashe, the late tennis champion, summed up his style in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Curry Kirkpatrick, "Against Connors and Borg, you feel like your being hit with a sledge hammer, but McEnroe is a stiletto."
As his talent came to public attention, so did his "superstar" personality. At no tournament did his comments and disruptive actions stand out more than they did at Wimbledon, which was run by the traditional All England Club. Whether there was any truth to his claims or not, McEnroe believed that the Wimbledon umpires were out to get him. "I get screwed by the umpires in this place," he was quoted as saying. There is a theory that these disruptions were beneficial to McEnroe. "He's the only player in the history of the game to go berserk and play better tennis," said George Plimpton in Esquire. Needless to say, the All England Club and the British fans were happy to see McEnroe lose in the fourth round at the 1979 Wimbledon tournament. Later that year McEnroe bounced back and won his first United States Open Championship, defeating fellow New Yorker Vitas Gerulaitis. McEnroe became the youngest player to win the U.S. Open since 1948. Shortly after his U.S. Open triumph, he led the U.S. Davis Cup team to victory over Argentina, Australia, and Italy to allow the team to retain the cup.
In 1980, one of tennis' most notorious rivalries between McEnroe and the unflappable Swede, Bjorn Borg, took shape.
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