It became obvious at an early age that he was competitive. He was normally a quiet, reserved character but turned into something else when he was on court. So much so, that I often wondered if he was somehow related to John McEnroe. I threatened to quit as his chauffeur unless he behaved himself and told him if he ever broke a racquet, he wouldn’t get another one but now I’m wondering if I made a mistake.
It takes a lot to become a top-class tennis player and it begins at an early age. If you look at the background stories of how Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and more recently, Andy Murray, reached the pinnacle of their careers, you’ll find a few common denominators. Determined parents, a competitive spirit, talent, dedication to hard work and a belief in their ability.
I remember on one occasion when he was about ten, he entered a tournament in Sundays Well Tennis Club around the time we were getting ready to go on holidays. The caravan was packed and ready for the off, but Colin won his first-round match, and had to return for the second round the following day. We weren’t expecting that.
The caravan was unhitched and back we went to Sundays Well. Standing behind the court, I cheered and clapped like the rest of the anxious parents while secretly hoping Colin would lose so we could get away. That wasn’t the best attitude for an ambitious dad so it’s partly my fault Colin never won Wimbledon and why I don’t have a beach house in the Bahamas today.
I’m fairly certain those thoughts never entered the minds of Mr. John McEnroe senior, Mr. Agassi or Judy Murray. I remember reading Agassi’s autobiography many years ago and I was shocked to learn what he went through. His father was a tough man and drove his son hard. He even moved to a bigger house just so he could build a private court for Andre to practice on. His father was a hard taskmaster and so tough on Andre that he eventually grew to hate tennis.
He suffered for his sport and told a story of a match he played against Greg Rusedski. It was a long gruelling five-setter and after the game he ended up on the floor in the changing room and had to be lifted onto the table. His muscles were seizing up and he needed a massage before he could move.
Towards the end of his career, he used to get out of bed in the morning on all fours until he stretched himself out so he could eventually stand up. His back was giving him serious trouble.
John McEnroe had his trials and tribulations too. He grew up in New York City, but his paternal grandparents came from Ireland. He was a tough kid, and even though he wasn’t tall, he had a flair for any sport with a ball. His exceptional hand eye co-ordination was spotted at an early age, and he soon came to the notice of some good tennis coaches.
What he lacked in height, he made up for with speed and talent.
That changed as he got older, and he made a name for himself with his tantrums on court. His most famous outburst was in Wimbledon when his ball was called out, he shouted at the umpire, ‘You cannot be serious.’ That behaviour was unheard of in Wimbledon and McEnroe was considered uncouth and unsuited to the All-England Club. The suits didn’t like him, but the fans loved him. The BBC weren’t overly fond of him either but ironically, he now works as a sports commentator and regularly covers Wimbledon for that broadcaster.
Andy Murray is another guy who has proven his worth through hard work and dedication and even though he has been laid low several times with injuries, he keeps bouncing back. He recently had a good run at Wimbledon after a break of a couple of years and now has a metal plate in his hip, but his love of the game keeps him going.
Attitude is everything to these guys except maybe for Benoît Paire. The Frenchman is controversial to say the least and has been in trouble with officials over his antics. In his first-round match at Wimbledon this year, the umpire cautioned him to do his best after he appeared to have no interest in the game and didn’t seem to be trying.
The crowd got on his back and booed him with one spectator abusing him for wasting everybody’s time. In an interview afterwards he said he didn’t care what fans thought of him.
He wasn’t selected for the Tokyo Olympics either for what the French authorities called ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and in the Argentina Open he was cautioned for spitting on court.
In Rome recently he got into an argument with the umpire who called his ball out, and he responded by photographing the mark with his phone. He has spent lots of money on fines but couldn’t care less.
On second thoughts, maybe I was right not to push Colin - it might have been expensive.