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John McEnroe’s undiminished intensity
Why the tennis great is still a hothead.
 

John McEnroe is still a hothead, says Nicholas Dawidoff in The New York Times Magazine. “I am someone who gets pretty worked up,” the former tennis superstar acknowledges. In his heyday in the late ’70s and early ’80s, McEnroe was blowing up at referees, bad-mouthing the press and fellow players, and in general acting like an all-around jerk. Looking back, he’s not particularly proud. “I could have controlled it better. My parents always thought so. On some level I didn’t control it because I didn’t want to. I did feel out of control, and I didn’t like it.” He was constantly ticked off at a whole series of things, McEnroe says: “Bad calls; not getting what I wanted; being a perfectionist; wanting everything just right; people who had no idea what they were clapping for.” He especially didn’t like tennis’ elite image. “Tennis was a white, upper-class sport, and I wanted it to be treated like other sports were. I was always fighting the establishment, trying to run through brick walls.” At 49, McEnroe can still be fidgety, twitchy, and impatient, and he screams at meter maids and drivers he deems dumb. But at least in his new career as a tennis broadcaster, he’s got enough emotional distance from the game to keep his cool. “Maybe what I like so much about what I do now is that I’m in control. I’m not mellow; I’m mellower. I don’t have the angst I had.”

 

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