'Nice' McEnroe has his moments Breakthrough comes in Australian Open

February 14, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

PHILADELPHIA -- The memory of the fortnight makes him smile, even now, nearly three weeks removed and half a world away. Whatever else happens in the tennis career of Patrick McEnroe, nothing can erase that special time down under in January.

McEnroe didn't win the Australian Open. He didn't beat any legends or would-be legends. But he got to the semifinals and took Boris Becker four sets, and for one moment at least, he was no longer John McEnroe's little brother, he was a Grand Slam contender.

"It's nice to be recognized for accomplishing something on my own, instead of being John's brother," he said. "It's nice to have your own spotlight."

But in tennis, a glorious fortnight quickly passes. McEnroe was back on a court yesterday for the first time since his unexpected journey through the Australian Open draw. At 10:30 a.m., he entered a virtually empty Spectrum arena and squared off against 21-year-old Malivai Washington in the second round of the U.S. Pro Indoor.

It was no contest. Washington overwhelmed the No. 16-seeded McEnroe, 6-0, 6-3.

"Obviously, this was a wake-up call for me," said McEnroe, ranked 55th in the world.

Some alarm. It was a jolt back to reality. McEnroe still is trying to create his identity in the tennis world, even while acknowledging constantcomparisons with his famous brother. The differences between the youngest and oldest of McEnroes are plain to see. Patrick is the "nice" McEnroe, the even-tempered competitor with modest physical gifts.

Patrick is 24, right-handed, displays a medium range of power and uses two hands to control his backhand. John celebrates his birthday Saturday and makes his tennis fortune with equal doses of spins, slices and artistry.

Asked what it is like to live in John's shadow, Patrick says curtly, "It's difficult at times."

As a junior, Patrick quickly realized he would have to keep his temper under control. As an 11-year-old, his outbursts in local tournaments drew the attention of umpires and photographers, quick to point out the faults of another McEnroe with a short fuse.

"I had to make a decision then to control myself," he said.

Although they started from the same place, Patrick and John took different routes to the professional tennis world. After spending one year at Stanford University, John eagerly hit the world stage and won his first Grand Slam title when he was 20. Patrick spent four years at Stanford, and was a three-time singles All-America. He endured the difficult transition from college star to professional journeyman.

"I don't have any regrets about college," he said. "I went for four years and got my degree. I don't feel that tennis-wise it was the best thing for me. I didn't improve that much."

McEnroe's initial success on the pro tour came as a doubles player. With partner Jim Grabb, he won the

French Open doubles title. But last year, with support from his brother, McEnroe decided to devote himself to his singles career.

"I had to work on my consistency and my quickness," he said. "I knew I had to do that, instead of just talk about it."

McEnroe took a small step by reaching the second round of the 1990 U.S. Open. His giant leap came in Australia.

With his brother at home recuperating from a shoulder injury, McEnroe had the stage to himself. He upset a seeded Jay Berger in the first week, downed Australia's Mark Woodfordge in the fourth round, then displayed toughness in the quarterfinals, overcoming excruciating back pain to defeat Cristiano Caratti in five sets. McEnroe cried after the match, but quickly composed himself. He walked into a packed news conference and said: "Well, this is the dream semifinals you all wanted, right? [Stefan] Edberg, [Ivan] Lendl, Becker and McEnroe." The reporters roared.

In the semifinals against Becker, McEnroe won the first set tiebreaker but lost the match, 6-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

"Obviously, I look back on Australia, and it was great," he said. "I played a lot of matches. It was a great step for me. But I can't let it stop me from improving."

He plans to attack the weekly grind of the men's tour. Within two years he hopes to reach his peak. For McEnroe, Australia wasn't just a highlight, it was a breakthrough.

"Some people might consider it a fluke," he said. "I intend to make sure people don't say that. I work hard, and I'll continue to work hard. I have to prove to myself and to others, that Australia wasn't a fluke."

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