Iit’s the same every year. As soon as he started to fall in love with her. That’s Wimbledon’s special power—it jumps out at you every day, teasing your routine for a moment before, just as you start to let it in, it’s enveloped itself for another year.
This time, that familiar, small loss is a touch sharper. What would we all do without drama? Losing men’s finalist Nick Kyrgios, speaking for himself in 2022, lacked that component in many of the past years; a character so volatile, so at odds with what Wimbledon understands Wimbledon to be, so talented and brave, irrational and unknowable, that the outside world tends to follow them all. When everyone does it, honestly what sport doesn’t love it.
Kyrgios’ incredibly colorful tournament has ended in a sometimes supernatural tennis final, and he has repeatedly committed borderline insults to his closest loved ones. It became very controversial from within and very watchable from without. Despite all the answers thrown around, it was worth seeing through the eyes of just one person. A man present in the echo of each explosion seemed to nod a modernized head. A man who knows what it’s really like to be that man and still lives with it. John McEnroe. Some of the furniture now set up around the BBC, even for him, served as a mirror to a time when the stages were inevitably closed. “Every time I look at Nick and he does a little stunt, I think, ‘Did I do that?’ Was I that bad?’ It definitely brings back those kinds of memories and feelings,” he says after infamous images from the early 80s flash back.
As the story goes, McEnroe, a product of edgy, chaotic New York, was spat out as an 18-year-old prodigy in 1977 (the year of punk, of course) at conservative, hard-edged Wimbledon and treated as something of a disruptor. another planet. “It’s not fair” on a global scale for a generation of teenagers coming from television from now on, he said. He said this in front of the judges. They told their parents that. He was right, they decided, it wasn’t fair. That ball was on the line. Parents often hated him, seeing a pampered young man flexing his muscles and asking for more. Every memory you’ve heard of McEnroe since then, no matter which side you’re sitting on, will be remembered as if he was preserved in memory with his multicolored, red and blue headband against monochrome Wimbledon—almost as if it belonged to another era. as a whole.
“I think he’s just trying to deal with his nerves and the fear of failure that we all have,” McEnroe said of Kyrgios. “The way he deals with it is obviously different from others. Unfortunately, when things happen to you, you take it out on the person closest to you when you’re desperate and mad. The irony of this is that the players take it out on the people who love it most in their box. That’s why it’s hard to watch.”
McEnroe, of course, was more inclined to take on himself and his opponent and the linesmen and any chairs or objects in his general vicinity than his loved ones on the court. He hoped he loved more. “I didn’t want to be excited for me, I wanted people to applaud me. Although, once when my father was in the crowd, he clapped his hands and said: “You can do it, my son, you can do it.”
“I remember going, ‘Fuck you, who are you, sitting on your ass telling me what to do,'” under my breath. He came up to me right after the match and said, ‘Did you tell me to fuck?'” McEnroe had to think on his feet. “I said no, no, there was something on you. I was screaming like Nick. But it was uncalled for, let’s say that.”
“I was able to quickly regain my concentration when most would lose it. In fact, this was what worried the players. “It’s hard to say with Nick right now,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t look like he’s trying. You just don’t know what you’re getting, which makes it fun to watch, like a train wreck. It’s like watching a car crash.” He changes direction, making sure to show his admiration at the same time: “I would never have had the balls to try between-the-leg shots and all the other crazy things he does. I was commenting looking at it and literally laughing. I was like, ‘I can’t believe he tried that in the Wimbledon final.’ This is fascinating. It was a very high level of tennis. He has shown what he is capable of and I hope he will stick to it.”
I first met John McEnroe in early 2020. Director Barney Douglas was starting a film about his life and asked me if I would be interested in doing the film. I would love to, I told him. Before starting, Barney explained that music was important to John and he wanted to meet the person who made it. The pandemic halted any plans to meet in person, so – like everything else – it had to be on Zoom. He would walk down deserted streets late at night to shoot in New York – and I in south-east London.
There he suddenly was, the man of a million predictions, decades after the duels he was still involved in, but the reception on the screen in my apartment was slightly delayed and distorted. He spoke quietly, with skepticism—gentle, but clear from the screaming screen. I showed him my guitar (optionally). He showed himself to me. Hers was far, far more beautiful. He carried Jeff Buckley’s guitar at the famous London Garage show. There were more stories about the names of nearly all the major rock stars of recent decades. On the other hand, he began to search for what he imagined his life’s music should be. Struggling to find the right words, his hands clasped in an excited guitar gesture, he finally gave up, showing for a second his frustration at having to make a once-unpleasant decision, landing: ‘”Just don’t. Sounds like Titanic, okay? Got it, I said. Titanic not like that.
Two years later, a few minutes’ walk from Center Court at Wimbledon after the tournament, I watched him sing “It’s the End of the World” by REM at an after party he had thrown. for charity. I just joined him on stage and he encouraged me to play more guitar solos than I had collectively done in my life up to that point. He agrees that the finished score doesn’t sound like Titanic, “You know, I just didn’t want any of those dramatic, ‘one more cello please’ songs. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it would have worked with Celine Dion or whoever.”
Becoming something that wasn’t in his life is something McEnroe has often struggled with since his tennis career. No more strings and cellos, please, he’s forever begging, as his playing days have gone from the greatest time he’s ever played to an aimless slog. During his endless duels with Björn Borg, the world watched – almost literally – leaning on a scale that Kyrgios had bequeathed. According to a brilliant book about John McEnroe, for the famous final in 1980, Nelson Mandela convinced his guards to let him in from Robben Island prison. Seven-year-old Sachin Tendulkar from Bombay looked like his hero in tennis kit and headband. Andy Warhol was up early in Manhattan to catch it. They all loved him.
This quest for acceptance through tennis is something that ties itself into McEnroe’s inner monologue throughout the film we just signed. “It’s what I’ve been trying to do for decades,” he says, searching for resolution and connection. I was brought up like “don’t cry, be tough, that’s how men should be”. So, in some ways, I was hiding weakness or tears. I would get angry and hide myself a little with that.” It’s a story of second chances that come in the form of a chance meeting with Patty Smyth, a musician he’s been with for 28 years. “You have to be able to let that other person be who they are other than who you want them to be. It always seemed to me that he allowed me to be me.” “That’s all you can ask. It’s a very difficult thing to accept and do.” She lets him play guitar around the house, but usually asks her not to sing.
When McEnroe leaves London this week, he’ll still somehow be outdone by his home for a few weeks and being part of the “100-year champions” at Wimbledon, ranked alongside Roger Federer and, despite his silver hair and dark suit. against other champions in technicolor. In public interviews, he regularly strays on Russia/Ukraine (he’s against the war but thinks Russian players should have been allowed to play), vaccination (he’s pro-vax, but Novak Djokovic shouldn’t have been kicked). Outside of Australia) and in the evenings on guitar he was entertained on stage with both the Eagles and Pearl Jam in Hyde Park.
There was a time, in the early 80s, when all she wanted was to never see him again. “If I win this tournament,” he says in the film, “I’m never coming back.” This has changed over time. “The moment I won,” he tells me, “I felt like I could fly out of the stadium. There was a brief period when everything was lifted off my shoulders and I thought, actually…” He pauses, perhaps, recalling the repulsive energy his outbursts attracted, “I didn’t realize I’d end up working for the BBC. . . I don’t think anyone saw it coming.”
There is a more interesting counter-art to interpretation than the art that fueled it at the time. “It’s like music, actually. It’s knowing when to pull back and let it breathe. “When you’re looking at something great, sometimes it’s best to let it speak for itself.” He returns to the fourth-set tiebreak between Kyrgios and Djokovic. “Let people see it,” he said to himself. Needless to say. “That’s what it’s about. “Some of my best work is when I say nothing.” What about Kyrgios? “He’s done electrifying work in a lot of ways,” he shrugged. “Even if it’s not always for the right reasons.”
McEnroe is in theaters July 15