You Cannot Be Serious

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9780399148583: You Cannot Be Serious

John McEnroe was just an eighteen-year-old amateur from Queens when he stunned the tennis world by making it to the Wimbledon semifinals in 1977. He turned pro the following year after winning the NCAA singles title; three years later, he was ranked number one in the world. McEnroe dominated tennis in the eighties, winning three Wimbledon and four U.S. Open titles. His 1980 Wimbledon final match with Bjorn Borg is considered by many tennis experts to be the best match ever.

You Cannot Be Serious is McEnroe at his most personal, a no-holds-barred examination of contemporary tennis, his championship seasons, his cantankerous on-court behavior, his marriage to Tatum O'Neal, his current roles as a devoted father, husband to pop star Patty Smyth, senior tennis tour player, and controversial television commentator, and much more.

Funny, biting, close to the bone, this is exactly the book you'd expect-and want-from one of the most colorful figures of our time.

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L'autore:

John McEnroe has seventy-seven career singles titles and seventy-seven doubles titles to his credit.

James Kaplan is a frequent New Yorker and Vanity Fair contributor and author of two novels, Two Guys from Verona and Pearl's Progress.

Estratto. © Riproduzione autorizzata. Diritti riservati.:

I

I HATE ALARM CLOCKS. That incessant ticking drives me nuts. And so September 11, 2001, began like any other morning in the McEnroe household, with my seven A.M. call from 540-WAKE. I quickly hung up the phone, let my wife Patty sleep, and dragged myself out of bed to go rouse five of my six children-Ava, the baby of the family at two, was still too young to be part of this daily ritual.

We live at the top of a big apartment building on Central Park West, in what I happen to believe is the best apartment in the most beautiful building in New York City. I think about that, appreciate that, every day. Our house is the top four floors; the kids' rooms are on floors one, two, and three. I smiled as I moved from room to room, mussing hair, scratching backs, patting cheeks. And as my kids fought for that extra minute or two of sleep before the reality of a school day set in, memories of my own boyhood bubbled up.

In my mind's eye, I was fifteen again, just embarking on my four years at the Trinity School on Manhattan's Upper West Side. My mother was struggling to get me out of bed in my upstairs room at 255 Manor Road, Douglaston, Queens, enduring an early-morning grumpiness-sorry, Mom!-caused by the prospect of a commute my own kids couldn't even begin to imagine.

First came the fifteen-minute walk to the Douglaston train station-a walk I made every morning until the glorious day I turned seventeen and finally got my driver's license. Then I'd catch the 7:20 train, show the conductor my monthly pass, and settle in for the thirty-minute ride to Penn Station in Manhattan.

For you out-of-towners, Penn Station is directly under Madison Square Garden, which was a frequent destination for me as a kid: the home of my beloved Knicks and Rangers; the site of the first rock concert I ever attended (Grand Funk Railroad!); as well as of one of the highlights of my adolescence, the New York stop of Led Zeppelin's 1975 world tour. Some of my greatest tennis triumphs, both in singles and doubles, would also take place there just a few years later, in the Masters tournament, just after Christmas.

Getting off the train, I'd walk through the crowded tunnels and catch the subway-the Seventh Avenue IRT, number 2 or 3 express-for the twenty-minute ride to the Upper West Side. Sometimes I'd be traveling with John Ryerson, another Trinity student who commuted from Douglaston, and occasionally John and I would hook up with another classmate, Steven Weitzmann.

I loved the subway. I still do. Being clumped in with masses of my fellow citizens has never bothered me a bit: I'm a New Yorker, after all, through and through, and getting up close (if not personal) is just part of the gig. For another thing, while I get motion sickness reading in a car, the subway doesn't affect me the same way (not that John and Steven and I did a lot of reading down there; I recall a number of paper-clip fights-sorry, IRT passengers of 1974!). I've also always enjoyed that feeling of rocking and rolling through the dark-it's comforting, in a way that's hard to describe.

I'd get off the subway at 96th Street, climb the steps up to Broadway, with its honking taxi horns and endless street life, and walk the five blocks down to Trinity, at 139 West 91st, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues-the very same place to which I now drive Ruby, Kevin, Sean, Emily, and Anna every morning after breakfast.

It's funny-our apartment isn't much more than a half-mile from Trinity, yet despite (or maybe because of) my own arduous commute as a boy, I like to drive them to school. I enjoy having the extra time with them, and I admit it-I like to indulge my children a little. Can you blame me? Having me for a father makes their lives both easy and difficult at the same time, and it's harder than I can tell you to strike exactly the right balance. I want my kids to be happy and secure and comfortable, to have everything-including what I call the fire in the belly. That's what got me to where I went then, and to where I am today.

But I made that long commute to school, and they get a ride. Am I too easy on them?

I got down to the kitchen around seven-thirty that morning and began lining up the breakfast fruit: apples, grapefruit, strawberries, and cantaloupes. I'm a big believer in eating fruit every morning, and like my parents, I work hard to prepare it for my kids: peeling apples, slicing the grapefruit just right, cutting and de-seeding the cantaloupe.

A few minutes later, the five of them descended like a swarm of locusts, and made quick work of the fruit I'd prepared so carefully, without so much as a mumbled thank-you (unfortunately, I've been known to be guilty of this now and then myself). Then they wolfed down cereal, waffles, and eggs before we swooped out the door a little after eight.

I got back to my house around 8:45 and decided to switch on one of the morning talk shows. I'm not quite sure what made me do it that Tuesday morning: I usually like to start my day with coffee, a bagel, and the Times. Today, though, I was ready, clicker in hand, for some Diane and Charlie, Katie and Matt, maybe even a little Bryant. I'm a restless clicker.

Then came the news.

There was a fire, they said, in the World Trade Center. Bad luck, I thought, but things appeared to be under control. It was now just past nine, and I was getting ready to head downtown for my weekly therapy session. Anger-management counseling is what the courts call it-or, more specifically in this case, what my ex-wife's lawyer calls it. I've been doing it now for about a year, and while I'm not sure I would've chosen to go if the terms of my divorce hadn't strongly suggested it-and while I don't exactly come out of every session full of calm insight-I have to admit the therapy has done a few things for me. More and more, I'm able to count to ten in certain situations that once would've gotten me going.

What I heard next, though, made me more scared than angry. As I was about to leave, I heard that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower, and that the fire in the north tower reported earlier had also been caused by a plane. It was suddenly clear that we were in the midst of some kind of terrorist attack. My heart was knocking like a hammer.

What should I do? I had absolutely no idea, except to proceed with my usual Tuesday-morning routine. I believe now that I must have been in some kind of shock. When I walked into my therapist's office, I said, almost casually, "Did you hear two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center?" He stared at me, seeming to wonder for a second whether I was serious or not. And then-incredibly enough-we proceeded to have our regular session, without another word about the attacks.

Somehow, the enormity of the situation hadn't yet sunk in. Perhaps it had something to do with my years of traveling as a tennis player, when I'd been forced to put plane crashes out of my mind just so I could keep flying every week. As a group, tennis players never discuss this kind of thing, the way race-car drivers don't like to talk about fatal wrecks. Besides, when you're young, you feel invulnerable.

I don't feel invulnerable anymore.

I got home just before ten and immediately became glued to the TV set. What I watched boggled my mind: first one, then the other tower collapsing, giving downtown Manhattan the look of a surreal war movie-panicked people running for their lives, mountainous clouds of dust-and, where we were on the Upper West Side, only eerie silence. Patty and I just stared at each other, stunned.

As the news came in, we started to worry about our kids. Our phones had gone out-what should we do? What should the school do? What was going to happen next? We came out of our stupor long enough to realize that if there ever was a time to round everyone up and cling together, this was it. I just wanted to hug my four girls and two boys, as much for my sake as for theirs.

Fortunately, Ruby, our sixteen-year-old, had her cell phone with her, and she was able to reach us; soon I was on my way, on foot, to pick up all the kids. As I walked uptown, still in a daze, I kept hearing sirens, seeing fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars shooting by. Other people looked dazed, too, standing around on the sidewalk, talking and staring. The city had been rocked, but it also felt as if it was starting to pull together in a strange new way.

For some reason, as I walked along, I thought about the 2001 U.S. Open, which had just ended a few days before. Now it suddenly felt like six months ago. As always, I'd worked hard doing my commentary for USA and CBS; as always, I'd loved the work. The tournament had ended on a down note for me: an exhibition match between Boris Becker and myself, which had been scheduled to follow the women's singles final between Venus and Serena Williams on Saturday night, had fallen through: Boris claimed an injury.

I had felt angry and disappointed, not just for myself but for Seniors tennis. The exhibition would have marked Becker's entry, at thirty-three, onto the Seniors Circuit-a tour into which I'd thrown myself wholeheartedly for the past six or seven years, but which had been struggling financially of late. Boris's almost casual withdrawal from a big match at the U.S. Open didn't seem like a good sign.

But all at once, all of that felt incredibly trivial and far, far away. I just wanted to see my children, right away, and take them home. Why, I wondered, did it take such a horrific event to make me appreciate what was really important?

ONE NIGHT LAST JULY (in what now seems like an infinitely more innocent time) I went to a Mets game with my son Kevin, his friend Josh, and Josh's father, who's a friend of mine. We took the subway both ways.

I wore a variation of my usual walking-around-New York outfit: leather jacket and baseball cap (Mets or Yankees, Rangers or Knicks). And the whole ride out there, and the whole way back, not a single person bothered me. As we got close to Shea, I saw a guy who seemed to be trying to maneuver to get my autograph, b...

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