THE SCENE: The University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion. John McEnroe holds match point in the third and decisive set against his youngest sibling, Patrick, in the finals of the Chicago stop on the ATP tour. Not since the Bridges brothers pounded pianos in The Fabulous Baker Boys have fraternal costars generated so much chatter. Or so much tension.
Throughout this hotly contested, two-hour family affair, the elder Mac has been a study in barely contained fury—an un-exploded Roman candle in a warehouse fire. "I didn't want to taint my victory or his with my usual outbursts," he would say later. "But it is not in my nature to hold things in."
John winds up to hit what will be his last serve, but just as the toss reaches its apex, a telephone rings in the upper reaches of the arena. Distracted, John lets the ball fall to the court and steps back from the baseline. Surely this intrusion will provoke one of his fulminations. Instead he peers across the net, past his brother and directly at his father, John Sr., who is seated behind the court. "Dad," yells John. "I think that's Mom on the phone. You want to speak to her?"
The crowd of 7,258 erupts in laughter when Patrick butts in. "Why don't you just tell her I'll be home soon," he says.
"She said to make sure you miss this return," John shouts back at his brother.
As it turned out, Patrick didn't miss the return, but John put it away with a volley into the open court to wrap up a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory. On this day the McEnroe brothers brought out the best in each other. John, 32, was downright civil throughout the match's 169 points. Patrick, 24, appearing in his first singles final, served notice that his winning a spot in the semifinals of January's Australian Open was not a fluke. "There was no loser as far as I'm concerned," said John Sr. "If I could have written the script, this is the way I would have done it."
Sunday's match wasn't the first fraternal final on the men's tour. In 1981 Gene Mayer defeated his older brother, Sandy, 6-4, 6-2 in Stockholm. Six years later, in Madrid, Emilio Sanchez outlasted his kid brother, Javier, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Nor was this the first time the McEnroes had squared off. In August 1985 John, ranked No. 1 in the world, routed Patrick, who was No. 440 on the computer, 6-1, 6-2 in the first round of a tournament at Stratton Mountain, Vt.
The only thing the two brothers seem to have in common is their parents. Patrick is a righty; John is a lefty. Patrick had to work hard to succeed; John didn't. Patrick graduated from Stanford; John left after his freshman year. Patrick is sociable; John is a near recluse. And as everyone knows, John can be a whining, boorish hothead, while Patrick is as stoic as any Swede on the circuit. "I remember playing in one tournament, and photographers were sitting around the court," said Patrick. "As soon as I made one face, they all started clicking. I never made another the whole day. I didn't want to give them the satisfaction." Could this man be from the same gene pool that produced John?
Patrick was barely 11 when John, 18, first reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, in 1977. Because of the gap in their ages, John was more comfortable beating up on his other brother, Mark, now 29 and a lawyer in New York City. "But Patrick and I became competitive because he was the brother who continued with tennis," says John.
John pushed his kid brother to pursue singles despite Patrick's mounting success in doubles (he and his partner, Jim Grabb, have won three titles, including the French Open and the Masters in 1989). Moreover, in his prime, John would enter certain events only if Patrick was permitted to compete as a wild card. "In all honesty," said Patrick, "I wouldn't be standing here if not for John and the support he has given me over the years."