Mac opens retirement door Loss to Courier spurs questions about future

September 08, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- John McEnroe, 33 and going on retirement, kept moving.

He left a pile of sawdust on the floor underneath the stadium and walked up a set of stairs and through the crowd, a camera crew rushing to keep pace, thousands of fans stopping on their way to the food stalls, watching him go by, some applauding, others yelling, "See you next year."

He was putting distance between himself and perhaps the last important tennis match of his life.

Jim Courier had beaten him yesterday, turned him into an old man in the fourth round of the U.S. Open with a 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (7-1) exhibition.

And McEnroe was heading for the exit, looking and sounding like a man ready to quit.

"Enough is enough, " he said.

Four Open titles. Three Wimbledons. A bunch of highlights to fill out a career.

In tennis, like boxing, retirements often last no longer than the next big payday. And McEnroe hasn't made a clean break. He's still in the Open doubles with Michael Stich, prepared to play for the United States against Sweden in the Davis Cup semifinals in two weeks and committed to a couple of more tournaments in 1992, closing out the year with the Grand Slam Cup.

But he no longer can win Grand Slam titles, a realization that more than anything else, could drive him into retirement. Nothing official, yet, but McEnroe said he'll spend the first three months of 1993 deciding whether to play on or drop out.

"This is a pretty clear indication that Jim has outplayed me, and that the top guys are clearly a step ahead of me," he said. "It is not really a difficult decision."

McEnroe is being shoved aside by the new generation of American tennis.

Everywhere you look at the Open, the guard is changing.

Courier, No. 1 in the world, Pete Sampras, the 1990 champion, and Andre Agassi, the Wimbledon winner, lead the American charge into the quarterfinals, with the winner of tonight's MaliVai Washington-Michael Chang match to follow.

But this day, cloudy and dreary, was about McEnroe and tennis, and McEnroe and the Open. The relationships always have been mixed with love and hate, genius and crassness.

McEnroe didn't go quietly. He was shoved around the court for two sets by Courier, a 22-year-old, red-headed baseliner who gives you all these goofy grins and cliched quotes, and then goes out and wins the biggest matches in the sport.

At the Open, Courier is sort of like Evander Holyfield, called upon to beat up old men. Last year, it was Connors in the semifinals on Super Saturday. This year, it was McEnroe in the round of 16 on Labor Day.

"At his peak, I don't think there was anybody that could beat John, especially on grass, " Courier said. "Take it for what it is worth. You just don't replace talents just like that. There are some other players, surely, but there will never be another John. I am not writing him off, by the way. I am not putting him in the grave, because he still has got a lot of good tennis in him."

With the good, you take the bad. You take McEnroe nearly getting into a fistfight with Scott Davis after a Sunday doubles match. You take him getting a cameraman tossed from the stadium yesterday for running the film rewind during points. You take him blowing off a CBS-TV post-match interview with a shove.

But you also get these runs, reminders of what he meant to the game. McEnroe made this a match in the third set. He hit all these high-kicking serves and then cut off the passes with delectable volleys. But when it came to the tiebreaker, there was Courier zapping McEnroe with two overheads, unloading service winners, finally ripping off one last forehand to put him away.

As the crowd stood and roared, McEnroe headed to his chair, and sat for several minutes, his shoulders slumped, a towel around his head. Then he rose, threw three shirts to the crowd, and walked out of a stadium, the one in which he sent Bjorn Borg off to retirement, crushed Ivan Lendl and staged all these midnight dramas with Connors.

"I'm not interested in recollecting my career," he said. "I have had a lot of great moments."

And his year hasn't been all that bad -- a quarterfinalist in Australia, semifinalist at Wimbledon and a fourth-round appearance at the Open. But McEnroe always has been about perfection, and playing on the final day.

"Ninety-nine percent of athletes would probably quit at a different time if they could, " he said. "But it just doesn't work out that way. I have nothing to feel ashamed about. I did the best I could, and I am not asking -- I don't need any sympathy. I feel like I am very happy with my career. It is just one of those things. You have got to decide sooner or later. That is just the way it is."

So he walked out of the interview, and started to walk out on his career.

Courier, who talked of retiring with grace when it was his turn to go, passed McEnroe in the locker room, singing the chorus of Jimmy Buffett's "Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes."

Guillermo Vilas, the former Open champion who ruled tennis for a time in the '70s, came in and talked to McEnroe.

Finally McEnroe was ready to go. He put the equipment bag over his shoulder and started out of the locker room, holding the hand of his oldest son, Kevin. And as he left the Open, he turned to a group of reporters and said: "I'm all finished."

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