November 4, 1984: The day John McEnroe threw one of his most famous tantrums in Stockholm

Every day, Tennis Majors takes you back to one of the most memorable moments in tennis history. On this day in 1984, John McEnroe threw a tantrum that cost him a hefty fine and a 21-day ban from the tour

John McEnroe_On This Day John McEnroe_On This Day_ Image Credit – © Panoramic / Tennis Majors

What exactly happened on that day?

On this day, November 4 in 1984, John McEnroe threw one of his most epic tantrums at the Stockholm Open. The American, at the peak of his career, was facing Anders Jarryd in the semi-finals when he went ballistic after a few disagreements with the umpire. He eventually lost his temper, calling the official a jerk, his behaviour earning him a 21-day ban from the professional circuit. Nonetheless, McEnroe won the match (1-6, 7-6, 6-2), as well as the tournament the following day.

The players: John McEnroe and Anders Jarryd

  • John McEnroe: the seven-time Grand Slam champion in the midst of his best season
John McEnroe_OTD
John McEnroe Image Credit – © Panoramic / Tennis Majors

John McEnroe, born in 1959, had been blowing the collective mind of the tennis world since his first foray on the professional tour. In 1977, at the age of 17, showing up at Wimbledon as an amateur, he made his way from the qualifying event to reach the semi-finals. “Mac” was preternaturally talented, his game based on precision and touch, and blessed with an iconic and lethal serve. He was also known for his outrageous on-court behaviour, which stuck out like a sore thumb, considering what a genteel sport tennis was at the time. At times, he was vulgar, and his constant quarrelling with the officials was a never ending bone of contention with officials.

In 1979, McEnroe became the youngest ever US Open champion, defeating Vitas Gerulaitis (7-5, 6-3, 6-3). That year, he also caused a sensation by beating Bjorn Borg (7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6) to win the WTC Finals. By November 1984, he had already won seven Grand Slam titles, including four US Open and three Wimbledon crowns.

His most famous match was the 1980 Wimbledon final, where he lost in five sets against Borg, after winning an epic tiebreak in the fourth set (18-16). Ranked No 1 in the world in 1984, McEnroe was at the end of his greatest season on the tour. After a heartbreaking loss in the Roland-Garros final (losing to Ivan Lendl despite holding a two-sets-to-love lead, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5), he triumphed at both Wimbledon and the US Open, and had lost only one match since Roland-Garros (against Vijay Amritraj in the first round of Cincinnati).

  • Anders Jarryd: The Top 10 Swede who was a Grand Slam doubles champion

Anders Jarryd, from Sweden, was born in 1961. He turned pro in 1980 and claimed his first singles title in 1982, defeating Jose Higueras in the final in Linz (6-4, 4-6, 6-4). In August 1984, he entered the top 10, and by November the same year, he was ranked No 6 in the world after he won the most important title of his career in Sydney (defeated Lendl in the final 6-3, 6-2, 6-4). Jarryd was even better at doubles, where he had claimed his first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros in 1983 (partnering Hans Simonsson) and reached the US Open final in 1984 (partnering Stefan Edberg).

The place: Stockholm, Sweden

The Stockholm Open was first held in 1969. It was held at the Kungliga Tennishallen. Played every year on indoor hard courts, it was a prestigious event, won by tennis legends such as Arthur Ashe (1971, 1974) and Borg (1980). McEnroe had triumphed already triumphed twice, in 1978 and 1979.

The facts: McEnroe started the semi-final on a 17-match winning streak

John McEnroe, 1984 French Open
John McEnroe, 1984 French Open Image Credit – © Panoramic / Tennis Majors

In 1984, John McEnroe was almost unbeatable. Since the start of the year, he had won 12 titles, including Wimbledon and the US Open, and had only lost two matches, including the famous Roland-Garros final against Ivan Lendl. When he walked on to the court to play against Anders Jarryd in the Stockholm semi-finals, he was on a 17-match win streak.

Nevertheless, Jarryd believed in his chances and took an early lead. Despite his many successes in the past months, McEnroe’s temper had not improved, and as early as the second game, he was awarded a warning after he angrily fired a ball at a spectator. While McEnroe let frustration take the best of him, the Swede, who was also at his career’s peak form, took the first set 6-1. In the second set, the world No 1 took the a 4-2 lead but things were about to get ugly. Disagreeing with a line call, McEnroe came to the umpire, whom he expected to overrule the call. “No mistakes so far in this match? You haven’t overruled anything. No mistakes, whatosever?”

As the umpire, Leif Ake Nilsson, seemed to ignore his question and announced “Second serve, please”, McEnroe got really mad. “Answer my question!”, he yelled at the official. “The question, jerk!” After losing his serve, McEnroe came to his chair and smashed all the cups and ice bottles next to his chair in anger.

“I was a bit in shock, but I didn’t do anything,” said Jarryd, years later, according to The New York Times. “Mac was a big star. I couldn’t very well go up to the umpire and ask him to disqualify John.”

Meanwhile, McEnroe went to see the umpire again. According to his hand gestures, he probably thought he was going to be defaulted, but he was “only” awarded a game penalty, leveling the set at 4-4.

“May I have this person taken out of the chair?” asked the world No 1.

Despite this burst of anger, McEnroe would eventually win the match, 1-6, 7-6, 6-2.

“It’s difficult to play someone who behaves like McEnroe,” Jarryd told the press after the match, while McEnroe explained his behaviour was due to mental fatigue.

What next? McEnroe gets a hefty fine and a 21-day ban

The following day, McEnroe would go on to win the tournament, defeating another Swede, Mats Wilander, in the final (6-2, 3-6, 6-2). He would be awarded a hefty fine and a 21-day ban from ATP events, which would still allow him to play the Davis Cup finals (where the United States would be defeated by none other than Sweden), and to win the Masters Cup, held in early January 1985.

25 years later, Nilsson, the umpire, would admit that he still didn’t have the answer to McEnroe’s question. “He wanted an answer to his question, but I couldn’t find any answers. If I could have found an answer to his question, I should have done it, but even today I don’t know what to answer. (…) I just didn’t know what to say. That’s why I said, ‘Second serve, please.’”

McEnroe would later call his Stockholm tantrum as “his most embarrassing memory” but when asked if he remembered the umpire, his response would speak for itself: “I don’t remember any particular chair umpire; they were all equally bad.”

After 1984, McEnroe would never win another Grand Slam title. In 1986, mentally worn out, he took a break from the tour and married Tatum O’Neal. He would return to the tour but “Mac” would never obtain the same remarkable results and would not reach any more Grand Slam finals. His last big result in singles before he retired from professional tennis would be reaching the 1992 Wimbledon semi-finals (lost to Andre Agassi, 6-4 6-2 6-3). In total, McEnroe would hold seven Grand Slam titles and would spend 170 weeks as world No 1, besides winning nine Majors in doubles and spending 269 weeks as world No 1 in doubles (the most after Mike and Bob Bryan).

Jarryd would reach his highest ranking as world No 5 in 1985, but in doubles, he would become world No 1 and achieve the career Grand Slam. He would also be a part of the Swedish team which won the Davis Cup in 1984 and 1987.

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