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Curry Kirkpatrick
August 25, 1980
Overpowering but underconfident, Peter Fleming hooked up with cocky John McEnroe and somehow they became the world's best doubles team.
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August 25, 1980

The Odd Couple Of The Courts

Overpowering but underconfident, Peter Fleming hooked up with cocky John McEnroe and somehow they became the world's best doubles team.

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"Fleming and McEnroe's righty-lefty thing is the ideal arrangement," says Fred Stolle, the perceptive Aussie who shared in many big doubles titles. "In that respect the dynamics of their team are like Newcombe-Roche, a hitter and a finesser. Newk pounded the forehand return, Rochey chipped the backhand. But this team is even more versatile in that McEnroe can blast as well as finesse. He has the finest pair of hands I've ever seen, but he couldn't win so much with just another guy who kept the ball in play. With Fleming, he has a man who serves like a bombardier and kills returns as well. It seems like the perfect pair. Of course, they have yet to meet the test of time."

There are rumblings already that Fleming and McEnroe will not be able to last as a team for any great length of time. McEnroe acknowledges that playing doubles has adversely affected his singles performance in two big tournaments—the Masters in New York and the U.S. Indoors in Philly—when the team competition dragged far into the nights before his defeats by Borg and Connors. Winning both doubles titles with Fleming wasn't sustenance enough.

Then, too, as Fleming attempts to brighten up his singles star (and just about everyone suspects that he will continue to do so) and inevitably meets McEnroe in further face-to-face emotional collisions, their partnership surely must be debilitated by jealousy or resentment or hate or something.

The two men's unmerciful public riding of each other usually seems quaint and funny, and it may be an outlet for the pressures inherent in a pairing of such explosive temperaments. But sometimes Fleming steps out of bounds. At a posh reception in London honoring the team for winning the WCT World doubles, Fleming announced to a stunned black-tie crowd that he would have felt much better about the victory "if I didn't have to share it with such an a——hole." Fleming was kidding. But McEnroe, who has image problems of his own, wasn't too thrilled.

More seriously, in Jamaica a couple of years back, McEnroe was incensed that Fleming would accept a point penalty levied against Junior in their WCT Challenge Cup match. The pals argued loud and long and bitterly. Finally Fleming shouted at McEnroe across the net, "Just because I'm your friend doesn't mean I'm the Salvation Army." A poolside chat nipped those bad feelings in the bud. But will tennis' mod couple always be able to shake and make up?

"Listen," said McEnroe the other day. "We've heard all that before. McMillan predicted once that Peter and I had too similar' personalities to last long. Where is he now? We both won over $150,000 last year in doubles. We win two-thirds of the matches without trying, for god-sakes. We blasé a doubles match and still win. We blasé whole tournaments and still win. We're gonna give all this up? What are we, crazy?"

"The only way we wouldn't play together is if we stopped being friends," said Fleming.

"And that isn't going to happen," said McEnroe.

"I was dreaming just the other day that it wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility to go undefeated through a whole year," said Fleming.

"You really want to do that?" said McEnroe.

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