Friday, 20 February 2015

Anyone for tennis?

With March soon upon us and thoughts turning to spring before you know it we’ll be getting ready for Wimbledon, practising shouting “Come on, Tim!” to annoy that angry Jockanese fella and stocking up on Pimms and strawberries. What brought all this to mind was a recent radio documentary about John McEnroe and how he rose to become one of the pre-eminent players of his day. During his career he won seven Grand Slam singles titles, three of them at Wimbledon and nine Grand Slam men's doubles titles. He also won a record eight season ending championships, a record he shares with Ivan Lendl.

When the interviewer asked where he got his determined and sometimes abrasive competitive streak, McEnroe credited his US Air Force veteran father who inculcated the player and his younger brothers with a ‘can-do’ attitude and a fierce reluctance to back down under pressure. At home in New York the father and sons regularly held board games tournaments on a Sunday afternoon which often carried on well into the evening as John Junior pushed for supremacy. Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble, Ludo, they played them all but, according to John, his favourite game of all was Risk: The Game of Global Domination.

Favourite because of the opportunity to rule the whole world but also because this was the one game his father invariably won. While the younger siblings accepted their subordination, the teenage JM was desperate to outflank the old man. They key, he noticed, seemed to be that on almost every occasion John McEnroe Senior occupied the Middle East from an early stage and went on from there to take over the board. (Maybe a lesson for our weak-kneed politicians there?)

As John began to try and emulate his father he drew more of his ire; Mac Snr liked losing no more than his young protégé and as JM’s challenges became more threatening, the language became more heated and more than once voices were raised sufficiently for neighbours to call round in concern, convinced that mayhem was afoot. But still the young McEnroe never quite managed to get a foothold in the region before his father had managed to move his own troops in the place.

Then, one day, John saw his chance and while dad was sorting out a squabble between the younger boys and momentarily lost concentration, the future world champion made his move and soon his troops were through the land bridge of Turkey and occupying Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the other gulf territories. His father was apoplectic and stated, flat out, that John had cheated.

“I did not!” insisted McEnroe, “I won that ground fair and square” His father pressed on, “I was distracted. Anyway, you can’t put your troops there, that’s MY strategy!” John did not give an inch and soon he and his father were standing toe-to-toe in a classic stand off, each refusing to budge. “It’s mine,” shouted John, “I got there first!” His father drew himself up to his full height and stared down his son “You’re not having it!” he yelled “Yes I am!” yelled back John. “No, you’re not!” screeched his dad “I’m telling you John..." he pointed down at the board and screamed  "You cannot be Syria!”

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