The Ball was in!

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Former world number one tennis player, John McEnroe, is as famous for his outrageous antics on court as he is for his inspired performances.

Probably best remembered by many fans for his infamous rant at Wimbledon umpire Edward James back in 1981, when McEnroe, then aged 22 and sporting his trademark headband and wild hair, was so furious when his serve was ruled out that he shouted the immortal line, “You cannot be serious! The ball was in!”

Thirty-six years later, the American tennis icon’s words are still recalled with great clarity and they have become legendary in tennis history.

Early life

Born on 16th February 1959 and rated as one of the greatest players of all time, McEnroe wasn’t always so vociferous. He was inspired by watching Borg play at Forest Hills in 1971, when McEnroe was a ball boy. The Swede was already a household name and McEnroe aspired to emulate him.

The oldest of three brother, McEnroe has spoken of his shyness as a child. He describes his mother as the “glue of the family” but strict – more so with him because he was the first-born. He described how his father helped the young John to believe in himself, working two jobs to provide for the family.

Arch-rival Borg

When competing with Borg, McEnroe rarely misbehaved and felt there was a lot of mutual respect there that he didn’t experience with any other player. On one occasion, when McEnroe was starting to become irate on court, he recalled how Borg called him over, put an arm round his shoulder and urged him to “relax and enjoy it”.

McEnroe, renowned for his volleying skills and shot-making artistry, enjoyed an intense rivalry with Borg, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors.

Career highlights

He won ITF World Champion and ATP Player of the year for men’s singles in 1981, 1983 and 1984, while his match record of 82 wins from 85 games in 1984 still holds the record for the best single-season in the Open Era.

A former captain of the USA Davis Cup team, McEnroe played in five winning teams. He still competes today in ATP Champions Tour senior events and has been an inductee of the International Tennis Hall of Fame since 1999. He is also a television commentator for tennis tournaments.

In 1997, McEnroe married former Scandal lead singer and musician, Patty Smyth. He is now a father-of-six, including three children – Kevin, Sean and Emily – from his first marriage to actress Tatum O’Neal; two children, Anna and Ava, with Patty Smyth and his step-daughter Ruby.

Was McEnroe right?

Indeed, McEnroe could have been right! According to Professor George Mather, motion-perception scientist of the University of Sussex, innovative new research based on data recreating the ball’s trajectory gathered from the virtual reality technology, Hawk-Eye, shows that McEnroe’s ill-fated shot may well have been in after all!

At the time, the incident didn’t appear to upset McEnroe too much, as he beat opponent Tom Gullikson and went on to win the men’s singles against Bjorn Borg.

A poll 30 years later saw his outburst voted Wimbledon’s most famous moment of all time – even beating Cliff Richard’s impromptu rendition of, “Singing in the Rain”, when rain stopped play in 1996.