Bringing up baby

John McEnroe has grown older, but he has never grown up

Not that tonight's McEnroe-Kriek match is one for the history books.
It does not take long for McEnroe to begin playing like a bad memory. He questions the chair umpire's call a mere two points into the match. Dessie Samuels, a quiet middle-aged woman from Terrell, calls his second serve out. McEnroe insists it's not and approaches the net, stalking it for several seconds, staring at the spot on the court where he thinks the ball hit--as though it has left an impression in the concrete. The crowd begins cheering; theirs are the shouts of satisfaction, because McEnroe has given them what they want. "Tell 'em, Johnny!" they holler during the early games of the first set. "Go, Johnny Mac!"

The crowd, for a while, laughs at his tantrums. They're delighted to witness in person the madman they've only seen on television, long ago. And he offers the occasional brilliant tennis to go along with the spectacle: During the seventh game of the first set, McEnroe covers almost the entire court to rescue a dying ball and sends it out of Kriek's reach. It's almost like watching a highlight film come to life as he dives for the ball, reaching for it as though a Grand Slam tournament is at stake. Even Kriek admires him from the other side of the net. "That's not a bad shot," he tells the crowd as much as McEnroe.

But suddenly the game takes a decidedly nasty turn. When Kriek ties the seventh game at deuce on a call that makes McEnroe unhappy, McEnroe fires a ball over the net and almost hits a line judge on the opposite side of the court. Then McEnroe demands that the chair umpire have the lights turned off on the practice courts behind the press box. At first, she says she doesn't know what he's talking about.

"Don't answer me with that crap!" he yells at her. "You sound like Clinton." For such language, such behavior, he would have been penalized in any real tournament--perhaps even disqualified. Here, his requests are granted. Later, he will admit that "I can get away with anything here, as long as it doesn't land me in jail." The lights are turned off. Then he accuses Samuels of interrupting his serve. "Make that big noise in the mike before I serve," he tells her. "Go on." The crowd begins turning against him, clapping in unison to drown out his protests. It's as though McEnroe's offering his K-Tel Greatest Hits, performing such golden-oldies as "You Cannot Be Serious" and "Are You Insane?"

After one more call he doesn't agree with, he begins shouting at Samuels, spitting his words at her. "Get the hell off the court, lady!" he yells, walking toward her chair at center court. "Who the hell are you? Hunh? Who the hell are you?" After the next point, he fires a ball right at Samuels. It hits just below her chair, and an enormous thud reverberates throughout the stands. When he wins the ninth game to go up 5-4 in the first set, he throws his racket in disgust.

When Kriek ties up the first set 6-6 to force a tie-breaker, McEnroe begins yelling at Samuels again. "No goddamned call has gone my way this whole goddamned set!" He eventually wins the first set 7-5.

The second set begins as the first set ended, with McEnroe questioning every single call. Kriek becomes so disgusted, he yells at McEnroe, "When in the hell are you gonna grow up?" McEnroe points his finger at Kriek as though he were a child aiming a pretend gun. The crowd begins booing McEnroe; he, in turn, sneers at the crowd. Later, McEnroe would compare the whole scene to professional wrestling. Kriek, not so amused, would say it's more like daytime talk-show television.

"I'm sick and tired of his bullshit," Kriek says of McEnroe after their duel. "I am 40 years old, I have a 5 1/2-year-old in kindergarten, and this has become The Jerry Springer Show of tennis with this guy on the other side of the net. We have to put up with this bullshit all the time...If I'm the only one that has the guts to say he needs to be kicked off the tour, fine, kick me off. I work too hard for this tour to be treated like this. You know how many people are going to walk out of the arena tonight and say, 'What an asshole'?"

Yet despite all the outbursts, the foul language and abuse aimed toward a woman who surely deserves better, McEnroe's anger appears to have been tempered by time, comfort, and immortality. Even he will admit after the match with Kriek that his outbursts are as much a function of giving the crowd what it wants as they are of his genuine dissatisfaction with a call.

"It's a big joke," McEnroe says after the match, wearing an Oasis T-shirt and drinking a Budweiser. "When Kriek told me to grow up, I felt like saying, 'Well, unfortunately, there are some things people don't want you to do.' It was funny, because someone [in the crowd] said, 'John, don't grow up.' Listen, they write in my contract that two or three times I have to question a call. It's part of the deal, I hate to tell you. If I sat there and did nothing, people would be all bent out of shape: 'What the hell's wrong with McEnroe? He's just playing tennis? This is crap!'

"This is where it should be wrestling, as far as I'm concerned. Let's put some fun into this, for God's sake.

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