Connors and Ashe, 1984 Davis Cup final

The 1984 Davis Cup final, by John McEnroe

From John McEnroe’s autobiography, Serious:

You know that line in the Beach Boys song, ‘Sloop John B’ – “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on”? That’s what it was like to fly to Sweden and play Davis Cup that December. As it would turn out, it was my last Cup match for three years. I really went out with a bang.

My heart sank as the plane took off from Kennedy. Tatum was back at my apartment. Connors and I still weren’t speaking. My mind was a million miles from tennis. I sighed and sank into my seat, hoping the week would pass quickly.

I arrived in Gothenburg Tuesday morning to find a debacle already in progress. Jimmy had come over despite the fact that his wife was just about to give birth to their second child, so he was totally on edge, and acting like it. To give just one instance, the car that had been supposed to pick him up for practice on Monday hadn’t come, so he was furious, and – if you can believe it – wrote a nasty message to Arthur (Ashe) in the snow.

Things felt frosty between Peter Fleming and me. And Jimmy Arias was our fourth player, and he’s always been a personality I don’t quite get – I just don’t understand his sense of humor. Add to this the fact that I was in love and wishing I wasn’t there in the first place…

What’s the opposite of team spirit? That’s what we had in Gothenburg.

Connors played Wilander the first day, and he completely lost it. He just snapped. I certainly know what it’s like to make an ass out of myself on a tennis court, but this was one of the all-time displays. He cursed and lashed out at everyone in sight, to the point where it felt like a miracle they didn’t default him. In Sweden! In the Davis Cup final!
The Swedes had done the same the French had at Grenoble in ’82 – built an indoor court of slow red clay, to work against Jimmy and me, and for their baseliners. However, the court was horrific: it hadn’t been packed down well enough – they’d wanted it as slow as possible – and it was literally coming apart.
The whole scene was just ugly, and Arthur didn’t know what the hell to do. His way of dealing with it was not to deal with it at all. He wouldn’t sit us down and talk to us – nothing. It was a terribly uncomfortable situation. Ironically enough, after Jimmy lost it, I played a miserable match and I didn’t get mad at all. I lost to Henrik Sundstrom, who at the time was a top-ten pro, a very good clay-court player. It was atually one of the few times that I barely said anything.
At the end of the first day, we were down two matches to zero. That was a very big hole to be against Sweden, in Sweden, on slow red clay. The next afternoon, Peter and I played doubles against Edberg and Jarryd, and very quickly found ourselves down two sets to one, with the Davis Cup on the line.
We were down 5-6 in the fourth set, and Peter was struggling with his serve. All of a sudden, Connors was on the sidelines clapping and yelling ‘Come on, guys!’ And I thought, Who the hell are you kidding?

I have no idea what was going on through his mind. Maybe he’d realized for the first time that we weren’t going to win the Davis Cup. My next thought was, We’re not going to win this. We’re not going to come back. I’m not coming back. Screw you!
But then I thought, How can you think like that? You’re playing for the United States of America! Still, I couldn’t help myself. I had won four Cups already; this was the seventh year I’d played, so my record was pretty strong.

Four wins and a final isn’t bad, I thought. The hell with this guy. You want to win? Try again.

I wasn’t terribly proud to be thinking this way. I’m still not proud.

Edberg and Jarryd were a great doubles team, and there was no reason to expect we could come back and win the match. And we didn’t. Peter double-faulted on match point. It was the first Davis Cup doubles match we’d ever lost. I felt awful, but at least I could console myself that I hadn’t missed a ball on purpose or done anything that caused us not to win, once Connors started clapping.
Half the loss was mine, anyway. My intensity level had been low; I wasn’t into the match? It’s not much of an excuse? It’s just what happens when a team isn’t really a team.

Then, that night, suddenly, somehow, all was forgiven between Connors and me. Don’t ask me how. We all went out for dinner, and one of Jimmy’s cronies, a red-headed guy named Billy said ‘Hey, why don’t you let bygones be bygones?’ We bith shrugged and said, ‘OK, why not?’ Jimmy and I ended up having a drink or two late into the night, feeling like we might even be able to be friendly from then on.

He went back home the next morning, to be with his wife. We had two singles matches to play that afternoon, meaningless except to allow us to save ou honor. I beat Wilander, and Arias lost, playing a tough match against Sundstrom, and cramping up because he was so uptight. We played hard but we lost the tie 4-1.

The final blow for me, and the event that changed my Davis Cup life, was the ceremonial dinner that night. Imagine, in the first place, having to sit through a long ceremony in a foreign country when you’ve put in a poor showing and functioned horribly as a team. Those dinners are deadly to begin with, and this one felt twice as long as usual. It just went on and on?
We were all bored and miserable and fidgety. At one point, during the “Star and Spangled Banner”, Jimmy Arias, who was at my table, was talking a little bit, being his usual self, laughing about something in a smirky way. It wasn’t anything mean, but it would become a crucial detail in the case that was later mounted against us.

After what felt like about four hours of speeches and toasts, I leaned over to Ashe and said ‘Listen, Arthur, when can we leave this dinner? Isn’t enough enough?’ Arthur said, ‘You can leave after the next speaker’. So the next speaker finished, and Arias and Peter Fleming and I all got up and left. What we didn’t know – and I don’t think Arthur knew either – was that the next speaker was to be Hunter Delatour, the president of the USTA.
Delatour had seen Arthur excuse us, but now he looked to our table, where Arthur was sitting without any of his players, and saw red. He proceeded to give an apologetic oation, saying that the team’s behavior during the matches (lumping me in by implication – I guess for past indiscretions – despite the fact that I hadn’t uttered a peep) had made him embarassed for America, and ashamed to be the USTA president.
My father, who had come to Gothenburg to watch the tie, was furious, as was the normally unflappable Arthur, who felt Delatour had no business washing dirty linen in public. Arthur told my dad that he thought Delatour, who was in his last year in office at the USTA, was kissing up to Philippe Chatrier, the head of the International Tennis Federation in the time, in hopes of landing position there.

However, the upshot of that whole week was that the USTA drafted a new Code of Conduct. From here on, if you didn’t sign the Code, you couldn’t play Davis Cup. I wouldn’t compete for my country for two years.

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