jueves, 17 de abril de 2008


Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

It all began for me when I watched on TV the final of the US Open 1979 in which you defeated Vitas Gerulaitis 7-5, 6-3 and 6-3. It was simply incredible to observe the class, accuracy and superlative skill of your fairly wide range of strokes, together with your out of this world service and volleys which science won´t ever be able to explain.

Definitely, you were different, unique, a kind of magician of the racket on court. There will always be a before and after you in the history of tennis and your pitched battles, specially against Björn Borg, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl, confer you an honour place in the shrine of top level tennis.

Then, once again through TV, the absolutely unforgettable 1980 Wimbledon Final against the Swede Björn Borg (one of the best players of all time, with 6 Roland Garros and 5 Wimbledons won through his career), unanimously considered the best match of this sport in history. Five sets hardly disputed by the two best players on earth, including the historical twenty minutes tie-break of the fourth set that you won 18-16 after saving five match balls for Borg, constantly aiming at the lines and attacking before the Ice Man finally prevailed in the fifth, winning the game 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6.

Next year, exactly the same: that incredible July 4th 1981 I was watching you and your magic on TV, also against Björn Borg in your second chance to win Wimbledon. It was a kind of enchantment, a spell, the enthrallment par excellence of all the conceivable enthrallments, a sort of uncomparable rite impossible to explain through words. You could do anything with the racket in your hand. We had been some weeks waiting for this moment and now your time had arrived. There was fidgets in the air, tremendous excitement, we all were anxious to realize your tremendous talent, your absolutely unpredictable plays, your bursts of anger, your wonderful touch of ball and class, your intuition and grasp of every aspect of this sport, your catalogue of boundless resources and your matchless imprint on the mythical central court of the All England Tennis Club.

And it happened. We knew that you wouldn´t thwart our pleasure, the joy of peeping through your display of the most unbelievable and wondrous tennis ever seen on a court yesterday, today and tomorrow, the impossible things you made with your Dunlop Maxply racket and no other player will ever do again.

And it happened. You had been struggling for some hours against Björn Borg, the number one till this day, the tennis player with physical capacity exceeding a lot of Olympic top-notch athletes, sporting 34 pulsations per minute through the whole span of his contests and the best player in the world from behind the baseline with his powerful topspin drive and famous two hands backhand.

The strife was harsh, sometimes brutal, a full-fledged attrition battle in many a respect. This was not for money. It was infinitely more important than that. It was between you and him, between him and you, for becoming the number one in the world. Both of you knew it and had previously accepted it.

And it happened. You were winning 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 and 5-4 and you had a match point to win your first Wimbledon Championship.

Everybody was aware that something great was going to come about. There wasn´t any doubt in this regard, but it was impossible to predict what the Mozart of tennis would do and how the genius would attack. Because even the grass of the court knew that your final onslaught was very near.
And it happened.

Borg failed his first serve. Then, the camera focused on you in the background. Your face was an unutterable mergence of irrepressible emotions, remembrances of all your previous life and experiences, full-blast desire for victory, fear to fail at this decisive moment and unavoidable nervousness, etc.
And it happened. Even now, precisely in the most decisive crunch time of your life, there was margin for one of your genial tennis feats, in this case the most significant one in your career.

Borg put his second serve into effect and you attacked him with a parallel drive on the right of the Swedish player, who ran to reach the ball. He tried the parallel passing-shot but you guessed the direction of the shot and approached to the net to volley. It was a very easy mid height crossed volley for you. There were a lot of meters of court on the left of Björn Borg to put the ball and only approximately a meter on the right of him at the moment of impact. The match was yours and any other player on earth would have made this simple crossed volley to win. But you were and will always be different, the high priest of tennis turned into top-notch art.
And it happened.

You feigned the crossed volley. Borg ran desperately on his left, persuaded that you would send the ball there. And everybody on earth thought that way.
And just a split second before striking the ball, you, the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart of Tennis, decided to twist your wrist and volley parallel, putting the ball on the right of Borg, exactly on the point of juncture between the baseline and the lateral one. Borg saw it and didn´t run. He had understood. Now you were the new Number 1 of the World Tennis and he went to the net to shake your hand with sincere sportsmanship.

The crowd on the stands became cheerful and burst into applauses, recognizing your extraordinary talent and at home we all were stuck to our seats feeling unutterable emotions.

27 years have elapsed. It seems that it happened yesterday. We all are much older. That´s the ruthless truth, but I go on thinking that never was and will be anything comparable to you grabbing a tennis racket.

27 years later, I have been lucky, very lucky and I´ve had the chance to have you near, very near, playing tennis, the thing for which you were born.

And I have been able to watch live your out of this world class, your masterpiece service, your fantastic volley from every imaginable angle, the way in which you look at the ball then and now knowing that it is yours, that it belongs to you, the way in which you attack the ball always trying to win the point by yourself and not looking for your rival error, your wondrous velvety backspin backhand, your accurate topspin forehand, your tremendous topspin backhand without letting the ball rise, your impossible to emulate drop-shots both through your volley and in mid play, your return shots in which you take advantage of your opponent strength and push the ball with the exact power to cross the net some centimetres over it and make your rival near the net to volley from below, your quarrels with the umpires, your bursts of happiness greeting the attendants when you make a marvellous point, your cleverness and cunning constantly striving to guess the trajectory of the shots by the player on the other side of court and so on.

I´m just one of the hundreds of millions of admirers that you had, still have and will undoubtedly have on earth after your death and I have done my best to pay you homage.

But let me tell you a thing, John. Now things are different. You don´t need necessarily win to win. Yes, I know, you have always wanted to win: since your childhood, when you were on top of the ATP and now in the veterans circuit, about to be fifty.

Therefore, we all know that now and in future you will always fight to the limit of your stamina. All right.

But with respect, you must know that from now on, every time you lose a point or not being able to reach a ball, you will win. I have watched the reaction of spectators almost thirty years after your halcyon days when you were Number 1 in the World. People haven´t forgotten you and won´t ever forget you. You can be sure.

Now, as then, and tomorrow, you love this game. That´s why you go on playing in the Veterans Circuit. We all realize it and do thank you very much indeed for your strenuous effort and the privilege to grant us being able to watch you play tennis and live such unforgettable and out of this world moments. Once more, 28 years after that Wimbledon Final against Borg on that Saturday July 4th 1981, your biggest day, I´ve been utterly under the spell of your tennis and have felt the same things.

We´d only ask you one thing, Maestro: Please, don´t ever stop play tennis!

Thank you, John, for the Memories

Main Titles Won by John McEnroe

- Wimbledon 1981, 1982, 1983
- US Open 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984
- Number 1 of the ATP four in a row years, between 1981 and 1984
- Masters New York 1978, 1983 and 1984.
- Davis Cup Winner in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1992
- World Championship Tennis WCT Dallas in 1979,1981, 1983, 1984,1989.
- Five times champion of doubles in Wimbledon in 1979, 1981, 1983, 1984 and 1992.
- Four times champion of doubles in US Open 1979, 1981, 1983, 1989.

Copyright Text and Photos José Manuel Serrano Esparza