The day when…Connors and McEnroe wasted their BNP Paribas Davis Cup final

Mar 10, 2016, 9:35:31 AM

The day when…Connors and McEnroe wasted their BNP Paribas Davis Cup final
As it’s captain Yannick Noah was reminding the press, talking about the BNP Paribas Davis Cup French team : « This generation has zero title. » But the « Mousquetaires » are not the only golden generation to miss out on a promised title.

If the French team has qualified for the quarter finals of the BNP Paribas Davis Cup against Canada, it is still a long way from success. As it’s captain Yannick Noah was reminding the press : « This generation has zero title. » But the « Mousquetaires » are not the only golden generation to miss out on a promised title. In 1984, the American Dream Team, formed by Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, lost against Sweden with enough arrogance, laziness and rants to shoot itself in its own foot. Making way for one of the biggest surprises in the history of tennis.


A champagne bottle wrapped up in a sweater. That’s the loot which was discovered by the Swedish customs in Jimmy Connors’ luggage one morning of December 1984, at the Göteborg airport. « Jimmy had everything planned for our victory », McEnroe, there as well, would go on to confess a few years later in his autobiography. Tennis’ warring brothers hadn’t just met up for a friendly weekend, but to take part in a BNP Paribas Davis Cup final. McEnroe and Connors are then respectively world number 1 and number 3. Ultra-favorite, the american Dream Team is there to face it’s Scandinavian counterpart, formed, amongst others, by Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg. But as soon as they disembark from the plane, the confidence displayed makes way for a blatant casualness. « McEnroe and Connors hated each other and were in an awful shape, later told the captain Arthur Ashe, who had to move heaven and earth to convince his two best elements to come. Badly shaved and disheveled, McEnroe looked exhausted. » To be perfectly honest, the latter had just been suspended for three weeks after yet another outburst at the Stockholm tournament. He had no desire to return to Sweden, especially to play on clay one week before Christmas. Furthermore, his partner, Tatum O’Neal, had just forgiven him for their latest argument, and moved back to the marital home. « I was in love, I was only thinking of getting back to her, my mind was lightyears away from tennis, he tells. But I promised my mother I would always play for my country if I was asked to. » Connors, on his side, also had his mind on other things : his wife was expected to deliver their second child. So, when the driver who was supposed to pick him up from the airport misses out on the meeting, Connors was fuming. John McEnroe : « He took a taxi alone and as soon as he arrived at the hotel, he wrote a message in the snow for Arthur Ashe. Which said, in substance : ‘I’m going to be sulking for as long as I can, you jerk’. »


« My father was ashamed »


For the first singles match, Connors follows through with threats and loses against Mats Wilander in three small sets. A defeat during which Jimbo literally goes nuts after a light dispute with the umpire, who is then called an « asshole » and « jerk ». During the press conference, when a journalist asks him about his individualism and the risk he takes of disqualifying his whole team, Connors pretends not to understand : « What's the use in penalising me when I fight my arse off to play on clay in December ? » For the second singles match, John McEnroe, who’s only lost two matches that season, spends most of his time complaining against the quality of the court. « A real potato field », keeps on saying the one who, before the match, would affirm that « the Swede’s best chance would be to play on a fast court in the doubles, and a slow surface in the singles. But they can’t have everything. » As a result, the american pair lose both of their initial singles matches in this final, without even winning a single set. The next day, the pair formed by John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, unbeaten so far in the BNP Paribas Davis Cup, only manage to win one set against Stefan Edberg and Anders Järryd, even ending with a double fault on Fleming’s serve. The humiliation is total. Jimmy Connors leaves his teammates before the two last singles matches to meet up with his wife at the maternity ward. He will never play a BNP Paribas Davis Cup match again ; nor will the pair McEnroe/Fleming. That same night, as an official dinner is organized to reward the winners and greet the losers, McEnroe and his crew leave the table even before having had dessert. At the exact moment when Hunter Delatour, the American tennis federation’s president, starts his speech in front of the crowd. « It was torture, judges John. But when Delatour saw that only Arthur Ashe remained at our table, he saw red. He was supposed to pay us tribute but he changed his speech at the last minute, saying he was ‘embarrassed for America’ and that he was ‘ashamed of being the president of such maniacs’. My father was also there at this dinner, he was ashamed. » After the reception, the Swedes, with an average age of 20, being the youngest team to win the trophy since the Australian « Wonder kids » of 1953, would go on to spend the whole weekend, in Göteborg’s nightclubs, at the hotel, and with every inhabitant who would open their door to celebrate the victory all together. According to Henrik Sundström, the fifth player of the scandinavian crew with Joakim Nyström, « there was a lot, a lot of champagne. »


By Victor Le Grand