Looking Back on John McEnroe’s Davis Cup Captaincy
While the U.S. Tennis Association prepares to choose and name a new U.S. Davis Cup captain to replace Patrick McEnroe, it is interesting to look back 11 years at the start of the U.S. captaincy of Patrick’s older brother John. Arguably the greatest American Davis Cupper in the history of the competition, John McEnroe was named by the USTA to replace Tom Gullikson as U.S. captain during the 1999 U.S. Open (incidentally, the press conference occurred on Gullikson’s 48th birthday).
Following his US Open press conference where he was officially introduced as the skipper of America’s tennis team, McEnroe’s next public appearance as U.S. captain came a month later when the draw for the 2000 competition was made on October 7, 1999.
The following is what took place, as documented in Randy Walker’s book “ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY” ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com) on the afternoon of October 7, 1999.
1999 – Less than one month after being named captain of th
e U.S. Davis Cup team and John McEnroe creates his first international incident as the United States is drawn to play an away match against the African nation of Zimbabwe in the first round the 2000 Davis Cup. Speaking to reporters at a U.S. Tennis Association organized event at the ESPN Zone in New York City, McEnroe says of the away match against Zimbabwe, “I am sure that word is seeping out that our worse case scenario has just taken place. We need like 27 shots or something to go down there.” After meeting with reporters, McEnroe takes questions from fans at the theme restaurant and is asked what surface he expects the match to be on. Responds McEnroe, “That is their choice. They are going to try to pick a surface that they feel they have the best chance of beating us on which will probably be cow dung …” The following day, “Page Six” the famous gossip column in the New York Post reports the Zimbabwean government’s outrage over McEnroe’s comments. “This is disparaging,” Immanuel Gumbo, attache at the Zimbabwe mission to the UN tells Page Six. “When we beat Australia last year we didn’t play on a cow dung court. We admire Mr. McEnroe for his gifts but you have to wonder what must go on inside his head.”
With the current situation that is ongoing in Zimbabwe, under the tyrannical rule of President Robert Mugabe, one can say that insulting the Mugabe government would not be considered such a sin.
McEnroe and the U.S. team were able to barely edge Zimbabwe 3-2 with Davis Cup rookie Chris Woodruff winning the fifth-and-decisive rubber from Wayne Black. After another 3-2 knee-knocker win in Los Angeles over the Czech Republic, the U.S. was shut-out by Spain 5-0 in the semifinals in Santander, Spain. McEnroe was not able to convince Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras to step up and play in the post-Wimbledon clay-court semifinal against Spain and resigned as the U.S. captain later in the year, paving the way for his younger brother Patrick to assume the helm and serve as U.S. captain for 10 years.