Bad News for McEnroe: Blood, Sweat, and Backhands with John, Jimmy, Ilie, Ivan, Bjorn, and Vitas

Bad News for McEnroe: Blood, Sweat, and Backhands with John, Jimmy, Ilie, Ivan, Bjorn, and Vitas

by Bill Scanlon, Sonny Long, Cathy Long

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In the golden age of tennis, when players were just learning how to become media personalities, men like McEnroe, Connors, Borg and Lendl ruled the court . Now in a tell-all memoir, former top 10 seeded tennis star and chief McEnroe rival, Bill Scanlon, presents an unfettered look at the good old days of tennis when some of the most colorful (and infamous) players


In the golden age of tennis, when players were just learning how to become media personalities, men like McEnroe, Connors, Borg and Lendl ruled the court . Now in a tell-all memoir, former top 10 seeded tennis star and chief McEnroe rival, Bill Scanlon, presents an unfettered look at the good old days of tennis when some of the most colorful (and infamous) players in history went head-to-head and the game was changed forever.

Bad News For McEnroe is in part a revelation of the feud between McEnroe and the author that began when they were teenagers, but the essence of this book are the wonderful and surprising on- and off-the-court high jinks of such notable players as Vilas, Borg, McEnroe, Nastase and Connors, all of whom Scanlan played and knew intimately, from locker room fights to on-court breakdowns and blow-ups. A story that could not have come from anyone but a true insider, Scanlan's tale of life on the pro tennis circuit will shock and delight tennis fans everywhere.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Bill Scanlon is the fly in John McEnroe's eye, the darting pesty pain that sends a highstrung young man to the outer limits of his temper."

- Washington Post

"McEnroe was determined not merely to win but to teach Scanlon a lesson. I had never seen him actively and deliberately go after another player before."

- Richard Evans, McEnroe biographer

Publishers Weekly
Scanlon, a top 10-ranked tennis player in the 1980s, wrote this book partly as a retort to John McEnroe's 2002 autobiography, You Cannot Be Serious. While he deftly depicts "brat-packers" like Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase and, above all, Mac, his attitude toward the successful McEnroe whom he played on numerous occasions might strike some as a severe case of sour grapes. McEnroe's antics were "an act, a contrived tactic of someone who would do anything to escape losing," Scanlon writes. But the book isn't all gripes. Scanlon discusses the impact new technologies had on tennis in the '80s and pays homage to the unsung heroes behind the scenes: the coaches, officials, tournament directors and even sports psychologists who try to keep the players mentally stable. What Scanlon does best, however, is dish. The in-fighting among the athletes is reminiscent of cartoon characters going at it, blowing each other up and coming back in the next episode to start all over. Happily for readers, Scanlon is no reformer, just a not-so-humble former player turned writer. Agent, Peter Miller. (Sept.) Forecast: Boomers and other fans of 1980s men's tennis may be interested in Scanlon's dish. With the U.S. Open kicking off on August 30, the book could get some media coverage. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Scanlon, a top-ten professional tennis player for a brief time in the 1970s and 1980s, has an ax to grind with John McEnroe. McEnroe barely mentions Scanlon in his 2002 memoir, You Cannot Be Serious, but Scanlon takes their "rivalry" much further, devoting an entire chapter to his few matches against McEnroe and yet another to McEnroe's many fines. The book is not entirely about McEnroe, however, but attempts to chronicle 1970s-1980s professional tennis. Unfortunately, interesting chapters on the impact of advances in tennis equipment and the changes in computer rankings merely seem to serve as excuses for why Scanlon was not considered a better player (Fila didn't design his eponymous racket correctly, he played in the wrong tournaments for the computers). The writing is groan-inducing in places: Scanlon ends many paragraphs with the statement "Seriously," another nod to McEnroe's famous quote. You won't learn much about John McEnroe from this book except that Scanlon doesn't like him. Not recommended.-Christina L. Hennessey, Loyola Marymount Univ. Libs., Los Angeles Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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6.34(w) x 9.56(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

Bad News for McEnroe

Blood, Sweat, and Backhands with John, Jimmy, Ilie, Ivan, Bjorn, and Vitas

By Bill Scanlon, Sonny Long, Cathy Long

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2004 Bill Scanlon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6339-2



Flushing meadows, new york, August 1988. The U.S. Open. The Super Bowl of tennis and the toughest Grand Slam tournament in the world. Outside the stadium, in Parking Lot A, there was a revolution. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) players' union, under the leadership of former White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan, was about to turn the tennis world upside down. Frustrated by years of pent-up frustrations, they gathered to announce their withdrawal from tennis's governing body, the Men's International Professional Tennis Council (MIPTC), and the formation of their own proprietary series of events, the ATP Tour.

Inside the grounds, on Stadium Court, another revolution? Not really. Just Andre Agassi kicking Jimmy Connors's ass. Another brash, confident young rebel coming of age. Andre Agassi wasn't the first. We'd seen this play out several times before, young gate-crashers named Becker, Edberg, Lendl, McEnroe, Connors, and Borg, each of whom seemed determined to outdo the last at making a dramatic entrance.

Agassi wasn't even mildly intimidated. The feisty eighteen-year-old had already incurred Connors's wrath by having the nerve to take the first two sets and lead handily in the third. Undaunted, he played as if it was his preordained right to claim his position at the top of the tennis world. Naturally Connors was none too pleased. But the kid went a step further: He managed to infuriate John McEnroe during the match as well.

It was a sight to behold. Standing at the service line as bold as you please, Agassi went into an exquisite parody of McEnroe's trademark sidewinder serve, twisting and gyrating like some angst-ridden soul. He then had the audacity to turn right smack-dab to Johnny Mac, who was seated in a courtside box with his first wife, Tatum O'Neal, and wink. Tatum almost fell out of the box, she was laughing so hard. John just glared.

Tickets to the U.S. Open: $200.00; souvenir program: $15.00; hot dog: $8.00 (seriously); an ice-cold Coca-Cola: $3.50; seeing John McEnroe turn purple — priceless!

Andre Agassi had arrived, and he would lead the charge into the next generation not just with reams of talent but with that indefinable something that would make him a star. He seemed the perfect, natural extension of tennis's path at that time: lots of talent and a brash demeanor suited perfectly for Arthur Ashe Stadium.

But he turned out to be the last. A sport that was brimming with stars named Becker, Gerulaitis, Borg, Connors, Vilas, Nastase, Panatta, and McEnroe in the '70s and '80s suddenly seemed to be left with one in the '90s: Andre Agassi.

I don't mean for one minute to discredit Pete Sampras or Michael Chang or Jim Courier. They were great talents who wrote plenty of new chapters for the history books. Sampras won more Grand Slam singles titles than any other male tennis player in the history of the sport. They gave us some great entertainment and exciting matches, and I am a player who actually appreciates the purity of their ambitions. No hidden agendas, just great tennis for the sake of great tennis.

All have now retired, barely reaching the age of thirty before calling it quits. Each is a millionaire many times over and looking forward to new challenges in their lives. They were all great champions and likable guys. I even sponsored Sampras for membership at my club, Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles. But make no mistake, at the end of the day, the paying public wants showmanship and entertainment. And Agassi was the only star.

First rule in the entertainment world: Stars Sell.

First rule of tennis: Stars Sell.

In the previous generation of tennis players, it was enough to be an exceptional player. Priorities were different then and the audience valued sportsmanship over showmanship. It was even considered to be bad taste to draw attention to yourself. Players such as Laver, Rosewall, Emerson, Smith, Ashe, Newcombe, and Roche were leaders by example and coaches like Harry Hopman would tolerate no cutups.

That's probably the main reason that I took up the game as a kid. My parents were so impressed by those very champions that they encouraged (pushed) me hard into the sport.

By the commercialized '70s, a lot had changed. In the world and in our sport. Now the emphasis was on making the most of your talent in the market. Thanks to superagents like Mark McCormack and Donald Dell, there was a lot at stake beyond just winning tennis matches. It wasn't enough now just to win — now a player needed to entertain. He had to have charisma. He had to have star quality and if he did, well, that could translate into major ad campaigns and big bucks.

Tennis was entertainment. Tournaments were selling stars.

How had tennis gone from the personification of the gentleman player/sportsman, such as Rod Laver, a quiet, unassuming nice guy with his clean-cut haircut and baggy shorts, to "molding" players into sellable images?

Part of the answer, I'm sure, lies in the fact that our generation was a product of its time. Television had emerged in the '60s as a medium of maximum exposure and we were fascinated with rock 'n' roll and the lifestyle images it evoked. Larger-than-ife personalities like Muhammad Ali, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones were thrust into our living rooms and into our consciousnesses. It opened the door for a whole new set of rules.

* * *

IN THE TENNIS WORLD the first larger-than-life personality to emerge was Ilie Nastase. Without actually giving any thought to creating an image, Nastase was just naturally a character. Criticize him as disgraceful, criticize him as unsportsmanlike, criticize him as obscene, but buy a ticket because he was a box-office bonanza — a star who could fill a stadium. From the moment he set foot on the court it was anybody's guess what would happen or how the match might end up. He could evoke laughter, tears, anger, frustration, sympathy, or hatred — all in the same match, depending whose side you were on.

A veritable genius with a tennis racquet and the first player to be ranked number one on the ATP computer, Nastase was sheer poetry in motion. It's hard to name a player who was more naturally gifted. His brilliance and artistry and speed afoot carried him to the U.S. Open title in 1972, the French Open title in 1973, four Masters Championships, two Italian Open titles, and another fifty-one miscellaneous tournament wins.

The pages of this chapter could be filled by recounting Nastase's exploits alone. His on-court persona drove his opponents insane, but fans loved him. How could they help it? Certainly he berated linespersons, but he was also known to kiss them, mid-match, in front of God and country — usually the pretty female ones — but, hey, if a very bearded decidedly male linesperson gave him the benefit of a close call, Ilie just might give him a big, fat wet one and drop to his knees and kiss the line as well.

Nastase was the first player I ever played against in a professional tournament. It was the first round of the Arkansas Classic in Little Rock and I was still a sophomore at Trinity University. Naturally I was in awe and probably as much entertained by my opponent as anyone in the crowd that night. I won a set and thought it was the best day of my tennis life.

At the staid and proper Wimbledon in 1975, the most unstaid and utterly improper Ilie Nastase delighted the gallery when he disagreed with the chair's decision not to call a rain delay. Ilie's tactic? He went into the stands and retrieved an umbrella from one of the fans, then proceeded to receive serve from Dick Stockton, racket in his right hand and umbrella in his left.

Wimbledon's response may well have been: "We are not amused," but the crowd was certainly amused. Entertained like never before and loving every minute of it. Nastase lost the match to Stockton that day, but he posted yet another PR victory.

In 1977 at Wimbledon, Ilie actually hid from an umpire who presumed to act as Ilie's disciplinarian that day. During a dispute over yet another line call on Court Two, Ilie sought cover behind the fence — in the bushes. The umpire didn't care for it at all, and neither did Nastase's opponent Andrew Pattison, but the fans — well, you know. No doubt for many years there were casual tennis players in London who recalled having been there "on the day when Nastase ..."

To comply with (or as protest of) an apparel rule that stipulated that doubles teams must wear matching attire, Nastase, while playing doubles with Arthur Ashe, deemed it necessary to paint his face black. While I'm sure some politically correct automatons found this to be in poor taste, with Nastase you can only laugh because the joke was on the absurdity of the all-white-apparel rule (that still exists at Wimbledon) — not on the fact that Ashe was an African American. Ashe personally cracked up laughing.

Before Wimbledon in 1978, Nastase had a dream. He won the coveted championship and ran round Centre Court with the trophy proudly raised in his left hand; of course his middle finger was proudly raised in his right. Ilie Nastase, an innately gifted player who was defiant to the core.

Fans recognized that there were these two very distinct sides to Ilie. At the 1981 French Open, fans voted him two awards: one was for his good humor and the other for being the worst sport. He had sinned and was granted absolution.

Nastase's antics almost always entertained his spectators, though there were occasional exceptions. In the finals in Dubai while playing Wojtek Fibak, Ilie Nastase went through a few of his patented X-rated gestures and various other pieces of his repertoire. Seated in his royal box, Shaikh Hamdan was most assuredly not amused. Ilie was forced to write a letter of apology, which then appeared in English and Arabic in newspapers throughout the Gulf region.

With the exception of myself, Ilie rarely amused his opponents. Players called him "Nasty," but to Romanians he was simply their baiat rau, "the naughty boy," petulant and pouty like the little boy who takes his ball and goes home when things don't go his way. He could curse, charm, and cajole; he could infuriate, intimidate, and endear.

No doubt about it, tennis had become entertainment: stars with huge drawing power playing before huge crowds in televised events. By 1972 the WCT (World Championship Tennis) Finals in Dallas between Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall had demonstrated that tennis was good for television. Huge ratings meant that tennis had become showbiz.

* * *

IN THE TENNIS WORLD there may have been no better showman, regardless of talent or rankings, than Vitas Gerulaitis. Gerulaitis was sheer electricity on-court and it was mesmerizing to see him race from one corner of the court to the other, his blond hair flying behind him. But mostly Vitas was known for his playboy image.

Vitas landed on the tour in the mid-'70s, just as the disco craze was taking over the world. Saturday Night Fever was the summer's hottest movie and the Bee Gees were on top of the charts. Another legendary icon of the time opened right in Vitas's backyard — Studio 54. It was the nightclub of the stars and Vitas was a regular, hanging out with Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Cheryl Tiegs and other starlets. He also managed to "drag" a few of his tennis cronies along most of the time, players such as Nastase, Bjorn Borg, and Adrianno Panatta.

Few players actively cultivated an image as much as Vitas. He was one of the first tour players to realize that building a reputation away from the court could reap big rewards. It worked. Vitas was very highly ranked and was always competitive in the majors, but apart from winning the 1977 Australian Open, he never managed a major Grand Slam title.

You wouldn't know it from his bankbook.

Gerulaitis was marketed as a sex symbol and he commanded endorsement contracts and appearance fees well beyond what would have been normal for a player with his achievements. He also collected mansions and Rolls-Royces — several of each. The girls just loved him, and he loved the girls. Vintage Vitas: At the U.S. Open in 1981 after his stunning upset victory over Ivan Lendl in the fourth round, Vitas Gerulaitis blew kisses to the crowd. Twenty years later, that's a common gesture: blowing kisses to all four corners of the stadium. Back then it was something only Vitas could pull off.

When I first turned pro as the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) champion in 1976, I was recruited by the big management firms IMG (International Management Group) and ProServ (Professional Services, Inc.) I was also approached by Bill Riordan, a sometimes tournament promoter who had formerly managed Jimmy Connors. I have to say that I was very impressed with the presentations that were offered by each of these agents. We had several meetings and I gave it a lot of thought. After much consideration, I signed with IMG and Bob Kain.

I'm sure that part of my decision was based on the fact that Bob also represented Vitas Gerulaitis and Bjorn Borg. Bob and his colleague Bud Stanner told me they were going to "mold" me as a marketable image. Those were their exact words: mold me. Like I was some piece of Play-Doh. It sounded okay to me. Anything that worked for Gerulaitis and Borg would be just fine. Where do I sign?

You know the phrase "Image is everything." Agents scrambled not just to represent their clients, but to "create" them. Gerulaitis became the jet-setter playboy, Borg the teen angel, Panatta the Roman god, and Vilas the soulful poet. Their trendsetting ways made long hair, headbands, and tight shorts the vogue among players and made the girls swoon. That's what tennis was all about. Of course, as a young, somewhat naïve kid from Texas, it was also a bit distracting.

When I joined the tour the top-ranked players in the world were Borg, Connors, Nastase, Vilas, and Gerulaitis. Who wouldn't look up to them as role models? The problem is that they were also the top-ranked playboys in the world. Every week, every night, every town — remember, this was the '70s. You could forgive a kid for thinking that this was a pretty good life.

Vitas and I won the doubles title in Adelaide, Australia, one year and couldn't fly to Perth for the next tournament until Monday afternoon. When we arrived there was only one suite left at the tournament hotel, so we shared. It was a front-row seat to one of the wildest shows I'd ever seen. Most nights we stayed up late — there was a lot to learn about Perth after midnight. Friday night we didn't sleep at all. I had lost in the quarterfinals, but Vitas was due to play his semifinals on Saturday. I sat and listened as Vitas called the tournament director at about 9:00 A.M. to explain that he was sick and would have to default.

The tournament director would have none of it. He pleaded with Gerulaitis to at least show up for the match, even if he had to quit halfway through. Vitas showed, and he won. Then he won the finals. Nice example for an aspiring tennis pro.

* * *

BJORN BORG MANAGED ONE of the more remarkable feats of image building. He did it very quietly. That is to say, he kept his thoughts to himself.

As the tennis world was just getting used to the shock (and volume) of Nastase and Jimmy Connors, Borg arrived with long blond hair, a headband, skintight Fila shirts, and he never said a word. Ever. Good calls, bad calls, winning, losing — it didn't matter to Bjorn — he just played and offered an expression that seemed to indicate he knew something you didn't. And the teenaged girls in London went gaga over him.

One of the perks that is extended to Wimbledon tennis players is the famous courtesy cars that will chauffeur them to and from the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club at their whim. Borg eschewed the perk. He preferred to stay in the far north of London where he had a special arrangement with the Holiday Inn Swiss Cottage and the nearby Cumberland Tennis Club. He also had an endorsement contract with Swedish automobile maker Saab, which provided a car for Bjorn's use during Wimbledon. His driver? Coach Lennart Bergelin, of course, but only so far as the West Gate Parking Lot.

The teenaged girls were so Borg-crazy that it was impossible for him even to make the two-hundred-yard walk from the parking lot to the locker room inside the grounds. And so Borg transferred to a Wimbledon courtesy car every day for the last leg of the journey.

Prior to 1980, there were precious few grass tennis courts available to Wimbledon players in London. This may come as a shock, but the All England Club had for years leased the land adjoining the championships (now known as Aorangi Park and used to provide twelve practice-only courts for the players) to the New Zealand Club and those courts were off-limits to players in the tournament. Because of this phenomenon, part of the challenge of winning at Wimbledon was negotiating to get sufficient practice time on the grass. Players went to great lengths to get it done.

Borg actually chose a hotel more than an hour away from the tournament site so that he would have unlimited practice time at the Cumberland Club.

The "teen angel" who first appeared at Wimbledon in its strike year gradually morphed into the "cool Swede." Baby-blue eyes that had driven schoolgirls into a frenzy at Wimbledon in 1973 were ice blue now, sending players into a frenzy. That was his act.


Excerpted from Bad News for McEnroe by Bill Scanlon, Sonny Long, Cathy Long. Copyright © 2004 Bill Scanlon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

As a top ten ranked tennis player in the 1980s, Bill Scanlon is the only professional ever to have achieved a Golden Set (not giving up a single point). Scanlon boasts wins over eight #1 ranked players. A US Open semifinalist and a Wimbledon and Australian Open quarterfinalist, Scanlon holds 11 career singles titles and 4 career doubles titles partnering with Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl, Vitas Gerulaitis, and Billy Martin. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Sonny Long is a Journalism graduate of Auburn University with a Master's Degree in Communications from the University of Texas at Austin. He is an award-winning journalist and author of two previous books. Sonny Long lives in Atlanta, Texas.

Cathy Long, Sonny's younger sister, attended Arizona Western College, New Mexico State University, and received a BA in Liberal Arts from Empire State University. A Bill Scanlon fan and researcher extraordinaire, this was her first collaborative writing project.

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