John McEnroe stunned the tennis elite when he came out of nowhere to make the Wimbledon semifinals at the age of eighteen--and just a few years later, he was ranked number one in the world. You Cannot Be Serious is McEnroe at his most personal, a no-holds-barred examination of Johnny Mac, the kid from Queens, and his "wild ride" through the world of professional tennis at a boom time when players were treated like rock stars. Here he candidly explores the roots of his famous on-court explosions; his ambivalence toward the sport that made him famous; his adventures (and misadventures) on the road; his views of colleagues from Connors to Borg to Lendl; his opinions of contemporary tennis--and his current roles as husband, father, senior tour player, and often-controversial commentator.
In his new role as TV commentator (and in his short-lived run as Davis Cup captain) McEnroe has tried to make the unlikely switch from tennis enfant terrible to tennis elder statesman. Judging by the welcome he has received from both the cognoscenti and the American public, it has been a largely successful transition. This memoir of growing up (or not growing up) on the men's tour tracks the same course. Unfortunately, when shifted to the page, the reinvention produces a much more muddled result. All of the career highlights and lowlights are here his idolization of Borg, his seminal matches with Connors and at Davis Cup, his clashes with the British press at Wimbledon, his romantic perambulations. But while appealingly self-aware ("For me, the relief of not losing has always been just as strong as, if not stronger than, the joy of winning") and consistently honorable, the effort feels a little dull. McEnroe's sincere pronouncements lack the cojones that might have made the book entertaining, and yet for all his openness, he engages in too much self-justification to seem truly vulnerable or poignant. The book grew out of a profile Kaplan wrote for the New Yorker two summers ago. That piece managed to present McEnroe as affable without diluting what is essentially brash and true about the star, and one wishes a little more of that boldness would have crept in here. For McEnroe, the persona hinted at in public remains more interesting and complicated than the person he gives us in this book. While the champion would no doubt argue, it appears that he has hit this one a little wide.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 09, 2002
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Excerpt from You Cannot Be Serious by John McEnroe
I HATE ALARM CLOCKS. That incessant ticking drives me nuts. And so September 11, 2001, began like any other morning in the McEnroe household, with my seven A.M. call from 540-WAKE. I quickly hung up the phone, let my wife Patty sleep, and dragged myself out of bed to go rouse five of my six children-Ava, the baby of the family at two, was still too young to be part of this daily ritual.
We live at the top of a big apartment building on Central Park West, in what I happen to believe is the best apartment in the most beautiful building in New York City. I think about that, appreciate that, every day. Our house is the top four floors; the kids' rooms are on floors one, two, and three. I smiled as I moved from room to room, mussing hair, scratching backs, patting cheeks. And as my kids fought for that extra minute or two of sleep before the reality of a school day set in, memories of my own boyhood bubbled up.
In my mind's eye, I was fifteen again, just embarking on my four years at the Trinity School on Manhattan's Upper West Side. My mother was struggling to get me out of bed in my upstairs room at 255 Manor Road, Douglaston, Queens, enduring an early-morning grumpiness-sorry, Mom!-caused by the prospect of a commute my own kids couldn't even begin to imagine.
First came the fifteen-minute walk to the Douglaston train station-a walk I made every morning until the glorious day I turned seventeen and finally got my driver's license. Then I'd catch the 7:20 train, show the conductor my monthly pass, and settle in for the thirty-minute ride to Penn Station in Manhattan.
For you out-of-towners, Penn Station is directly under Madison Square Garden, which was a frequent destination for me as a kid: the home of my beloved Knicks and Rangers; the site of the first rock concert I ever attended (Grand Funk Railroad!); as well as of one of the highlights of my adolescence, the New York stop of Led Zeppelin's 1975 world tour. Some of my greatest tennis triumphs, both in singles and doubles, would also take place there just a few years later, in the Masters tournament, just after Christmas.
Getting off the train, I'd walk through the crowded tunnels and catch the subway-the Seventh Avenue IRT, number 2 or 3 express-for the twenty-minute ride to the Upper West Side. Sometimes I'd be traveling with John Ryerson, another Trinity student who commuted from Douglaston, and occasionally John and I would hook up with another classmate, Steven Weitzmann.
I loved the subway. I still do. Being clumped in with masses of my fellow citizens has never bothered me a bit: I'm a New Yorker, after all, through and through, and getting up close (if not personal) is just part of the gig. For another thing, while I get motion sickness reading in a car, the subway doesn't affect me the same way (not that John and Steven and I did a lot of reading down there; I recall a number of paper-clip fights-sorry, IRT passengers of 1974!). I've also always enjoyed that feeling of rocking and rolling through the dark-it's comforting, in a way that's hard to describe.
I'd get off the subway at 96th Street, climb the steps up to Broadway, with its honking taxi horns and endless street life, and walk the five blocks down to Trinity, at 139 West 91st, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues-the very same place to which I now drive Ruby, Kevin, Sean, Emily, and Anna every morning after breakfast.