A BBC documentary to be shown on the eve of Wimbledon celebrates Super Brat turning 60 earlier this year. Presenter Sue Barker travelled to his home town of New York to speak to his family and friends, including his rock star wife Patty Smyth-McEnroe, about a colourful career which saw him win eight Wimbledon titles in singles and doubles.
But he was more notorious for ranting at officials – and he became such a 1980s cultural icon that a singer called Super Brat appeared on Top of the Pops singing his homage “Chalk Dust” in 1982.
And McEnroe claimed the pressure to succeed and his temper were closely entwined.
“My parents (John and Kay) gave 110%,” he said. “If you got the finals of Wimbledon, it was: ‘Why didn’t you win it?’ If you are no.2, you have got to be 1. That propelled me for a long time but it is also difficult that you feel no matter what you do, it is not enough.
“That fear of failure comes out in different ways for different people. A lot of times I take it out on myself, other times there were, believe it or not, even though I never missed a call, there were times where I perhaps got a little bit too frustrated with some umpires and others. I guess I was probably wrong just a couple of times!”
McEnroe’s outbursts “You cannot be serious” and “You are the pits of the earth” entered the English lexicon – and he was infamously disqualified for verbal abuse at the 1990 Australian Open.
“I think it did distract me,” he admits now of his on-court antics. “I think I would have been a better player if I had not. Others disagree. They think I harnessed this energy to throw off the opponent and lift my energy up or whatever it is. Some of that may be true.”
His wife of 20 years Smyth-McEnroe said: “His thing that is funny with the umpires and the call. That is just in his DNA man. He challenges everything, he really does. He is a punk.” Read More