The faces cause all the trouble. The faces annoy officials. They irritate opponents. They turn off the crowd faster than a bomb scare. A compendium of emotionalism, the faces portray anger and pity, pain and distrust, shock and vengeance. They depict the eternal naughty child who never got enough of the back of a hairbrush. For months Europeans asked him, "Why your face never smile?" Even the boy's father blames it on the faces. John P. McEnroe Sr. says, "The faces and the stomping were always there. We told him. But nobody should try and change him. The faces are—part of him."
John P. McEnroe Jr. says, "Let's put it this way. I don't care if I don't smile on court. I make faces. The faces are—me."
So we shall have to get used to the faces. The reason is that this week John P. McEnroe Jr.—brown curls and red neck framing his Idaho-potato head and one or another of those marvelous Irish pug faces—will shake off the bonds of latent delinquency and become an authentic American hero. This week in the arid fantasy world of the Palm Springs desert, McEnroe will win two singles matches against the patsies from Great Britain and help recover the Davis Cup for the United States for the first time in six years.
Surely this will be another bright moment in the tender life of the youngster from New York City's borough of Queens.
In 1977, just about the time his high school class was graduating from Trinity School in New York, McEnroe turned into a star. At 18 at Wimbledon he beat nearly everybody there was to beat and became the first semifinalist to emerge from the qualifying rounds in 25 years, not to mention the youngest semifinalist in 100 years. Which is to say, ever. Then a month ago, at the time his college classmates at Stanford University were preparing for the big football game against Cal, McEnroe became a player. After breezing to the NCAA championship last spring as a freshman, he had dropped out of Stanford to try the pro tour, and in Stockholm he beat the great Bjorn Borg 6-3, 6-4 on Borg's home court. "Routined him," as the players say. "Three and four." It was the first time in his life the 22-year-old world champion had been defeated by a younger player. When he won a mere seven points against McEnroe's serve, the Swede appeared bemused, as if thinking, "Finally it's happening to me. For sure." McEnroe says, "People probably think Bjorn tanked it. Let's put it this way. Bjorn doesn't tank in Sweden."
Now comes the Davis Cup. From star to player is a distinct and important trip. But from star to hero, well now. From star to hero is a long, long ride.
One remembers what McEnroe said in September at the U.S. Open before he reached another big semifinal. Before he lost to Jimmy Connors for the fourth time. The kid—McEnroe is known as "Junior" on the circuit—was asked if he wasn't awfully proud of his record with the pros so far, having won a lot of matches and having lost only to the top players in the world.
"Listen," McEnroe snapped, "I've been beaten plenty enough. Dibbs beat me, Orantes twice, Nastase three times. I've been broken in. I'm used to the tour. I've had it with being beaten. I'm ready to do well now."
Since losing to Connors in straight sets in Flushing Meadow, here is what McEnroe has done: Hartford—won singles, won doubles with Bill Maze. San Francisco—won singles, won doubles with Peter Fleming. Hawaii—lost in singles semifinals, lost in doubles finals with Fleming. Then to Europe. Basel—lost in singles finals, won doubles with Wojtek Fibak. Cologne—lost in singles semifinals, won doubles with Fleming. Stockholm—won singles, lost in doubles semifinals with Fleming. London—won singles, won doubles with Fleming. Bologna—lost in singles semifinals, won doubles with Fleming.
In eight tournaments the lefthanded McEnroe won four singles and six doubles titles and more than $120,000 in checks, which he sent home to be deposited by his father, who—thank the Lord—is an attorney on Wall Street.