John McEnroe, 1979 US Open

1979 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Vitas Gerulaitis

Extract from John McEnroe’s autobiography, Serious:

On the other side of the draw, Vitas was having a great run: he beat Clerc in the round of 16, Kriek in the quarterfinals, and in the semis, Tanner who had just gotten revenge on Borg for his Wimbledon loss. (It was funny how Vitas could beat guys who had beaten Borg, and yet, when it came down to it, couldn’t handle Borg himself. Tennis always works that way.)

But then in final, Vitas faced me.

I was coming off a year in which I had won three big victories over Connors: in the Masters, at Dallas (where I’d beaten Borg to win the tournament), and now here at the Open, in straight sets in the semis. There’s no other way to say it – I felt it was my time. I was a little uncomfortable about having to play my buddy Vitas in a big match – but not uncomfortable enough to lose.
In the end, it wasn’t even a particularly close match – I won in straight sets 7-5 6-3 and 6-3. In fact, I think that Vitas was more uncomfortable than I was. People were booing because they were angry that Connors and Borg weren’t playing. At that moment they were still the real stars – here we were just two guys from Queens! But I thought it was miraculous: two guys from Queens in the final of the US Open! I was convinced it was never going to happen again (I’m still convinced).

For a couple of years, I’d been working to hang out with Vitas, wondering if I could keep up with him off the court. I’d be trying to be his friend. I looked up to him. And now that I’d blown by him, the victory felt hollow. I had taken something from him. He was still a legitimate number four in the world, but now he was off the mountaintop. Now it was Borg, Connors and me .
Things were never quite the same between Vitas and me after that.

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