Stirring things up, seriously!

Stirring things up, seriously!

Mac-in-row times

For players brought up in an era of Hawkeye electronic detection devices, when line-call challenges are enshrined in the rules of the game, it is impossible to understand the furore McEnroe’s outburst caused in the civilised world of tennis. McEnroe already had a reputation and had been labelled ‘Superbrat’ by the British tabloid media for his verbal volleys during his previous Wimbledon appearances.

His moment came in a first-round match against fellow American Tom Gullikson, who was serving at 15-30 and 1-1 in the first set when a McEnroe shot was called out.
Approaching the umpire, he said: “Chalk came up all over the place, you can’t be serious man.” Then, his anger rising, he bawled the words that would stay with him for a lifetime and, for all his wonderful play and myriad achievements, earn him a special niche in the sporting annals.

“You cannot be serious,” he screamed. “That ball was on the line.  “Chalk flew up, it was clearly in, how can you possibly call that out?” he went on. “Everybody knows it’s in in the whole stadium and you call it out? You guys are the absolute pits of the world, you know that?” On the receiving end was umpire Edward James, who eventually responded by politely announcing: “I’m going to award a point against you Mr McEnroe.”

That was not the end of it as the referee was later called amid another rebuke for the headband-sporting, wild-haired American after he smashed his racket into the hallowed turf.  “You are misusing your racquet, Mr McEnroe,” said James.

“You are an incompetent fool, an offence against the world,” boomed McEnroe, who was docked another point. It made little difference in the end as McEnroe went on to win in straight sets to begin a campaign that would end two weeks later with his final victory over Bjorn Borg.

Gullikson was unimpressed, saying at the time: “It has no place. Everyone’s afraid of these guys. All it would take is one default to put them in line. If it was the 120th player in the world they would have defaulted him.”

The outraged Wimbledon officials were equally annoyed and broke with tradition by not making their new 22-year-old singles champion an honorary member of the All England Club. McEnroe boy­c­otted the Champions’ Dinner in response, missing a chance to dance with women’s champion Chris Evert in the process.

“You cannot be serious” moved quickly beyond tennis as the phrase, and McEnroe’s accompanying tantrum, featured in comedy sketches, TV adverts and pop songs and the man himself even used it as the title of his autobiography.

In a poll last year to discover their most memorable Wimbledon moment, 5,000 fans paid lip service to Briton Virginia Wade’s emotional home success in 1977, the epic 2008 Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal final and even the momentous Borg-McEnroe tie break in 1980. There was, of course, only one winner. And yes, they were being serious.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
Comments (+)