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Queens Chronicle

35th Anniversary Edition: News Makers (1979) McEnroe: youngest Open winner ever

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 3:10 pm, Thu Nov 14, 2013.

Even though he spent the first four years of his life on an Air Force base in West Germany, John McEnroe is arguably the greatest athlete in Queens history.

The hot-tempered Douglaston resident won his first Grand Slam singles title at the 1979 US Open, defeating his good friend Vitas Gerulaitis in straight sets. At just 20 years old, McEnroe became the youngest player to ever win the tournament’s singles championship. He would go on to win 27 singles and doubles titles that year, an open-era record at the time.

By McEnroe’s 27th birthday, he had already won the US Open four times and appeared in the Wimbledon final five times, winning on three occasions. But 20 years earlier, it was obvious McEnroe was destined for stardom.

According to his father, McEnroe could strike a ball with a plastic bat at just 2 years old, and at 12, he was enrolled in the acclaimed Port Washington Tennis Academy on Long Island. Under legendary coaches Tony Palafox and Stanley Matthews, McEnroe blossomed into a once-in-a-generation tennis prodigy.

He won the French Juniors Tournament shortly after graduating from high school in 1977 and, in that same year, McEnroe had to withdraw from the Wimbledon Juniors Tournament after qualifying for the men’s professional tournament. Upon reaching the semifinals, McEnroe became the youngest player ever to make it that far in the event.

He earned two designations that year, one being Tennis Magazine’s Rookie of the Year award and the other being that he was already the sport’s most outspoken personality.

McEnroe became known for more than his supreme talent, but for his verbal abuse of officials and affinity for on-court cursing as well.

His famous line, “You cannot be serious!,” which he uttered after a disagreement with an official’s call during his opening match at Wimbledon in 1981, became his signature line in later years. In his various public appearances and movie roles, McEnroe often reprises the famous line, satirizing himself. It is even the title of his 2002 autobiography.

After McEnroe’s surprising victory at the 1979 US Open, he would go on to enjoy one of the most successful careers in the sport’s history. He holds the Wimbledon and US Open records for most combined singles and doubles titles won at each event. He was the top-ranked male tennis player in the world from 1981 to 1984, and even after retiring from the professional tour in 1992, McEnroe still plays regularly on the ATP Champions Tour, a league designed for retired tennis professionals.

McEnroe now works as a tennis analyst for various networks during their television coverage of major tournaments. He married musician Patty Smyth in 1997 and has six children, three of whom stem from an earlier marriage with Academy Award-winning actress Tatum O’Neal.

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