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McEnroe ★★★★



Directed: Barney Douglas

Cast: John McEnroe, Patty Smyth, Chrissie Hynde, Billie Jean King, Keith Richards

Release: July 15, 2022 (U.K)

John McEnroe is, without doubt, one of the defining Tennis players of the last 50 years, known of course for winning 155 Singles and Doubles titles, including a number of Grand Slams but also for his aggressive style of play and infamous on-court behaviour, frequently arguing with linesmen or umpires in a sport known for its calmness and sense of tradition. McEnroe was quite the upstart and ruffled more than a few feathers on the circuit. McEnroe’s story is being told in a new film focusing on his life on and off the court, giving us a glimpse at the man behind the racquet.

We get first-hand insight into the pressures Mac put on himself and his will to succeed at all costs. This is perhaps best illustrated through his legendary rivalry with Björn Borg, who retired from the game aged 26 and with 11 Grand Slams under his belt. The film covers their two Wimbledon finals in 1980 and 81; both are often cited as some of the best in the prestigious tournament’s history. An interesting angle is how Borg’s retirement left a hole that McEnroe was perhaps unable to fill for the rest of his career and left him without a great rival which all champions need.

The film goes some way to humanising someone who is, of course, now a respected commentator but shows his turbulent relationship with his father and the pressures put on him at an early age and how his implosion at the 1984 French Open affected him, losing from 2 Sets up, a win would have given him three of the four Grand Slams. We also see his close friendship with fellow player Vitas Gerulatis who died in 1994 aged just 40. We also glimpse his off-court relationships with his much-publicised marriage to actress Tatum O’Neil and his more recent and happier marriage to singer Patty Smyth. The film also opens up on substance abuse issues, his fractious relationship with the media, and his struggles to adapt to the limelight he found thrust upon himself.

There is a spectacular roll call of interviewees and not just from the world of tennis, including Billie Jean King, Keith Richards, Chrissie Hynde and Björn Borg, with brief input from Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The involvement of Hynde and Richards shows his almost Rockstar status and persona and the impression he’s left off-court.

With his behaviour proving so divisive in his career, the film perhaps glosses over his attributes as a player and some of his successes. Of course, this isn’t easy to balance when making the headlines for tantrums as much as wins. Still, we get a sense of his perfectionism and how, ultimately, the drive to succeed prevented him from enjoying his career as much as he might and perhaps should have. McEnroe perhaps best illustrates the allure and appeal of bad boys and his abrasive nature. Close to 30 years after he hung up his racquet, he remains one of the Tennis world’s most notable figures and a continued inspiration for many. This documentary is more profound and moving than one might expect, showing that he is far from the spoiled brat he might have been in his career and offers a philosophical look at one of the sport’s great enigmas.

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