Patrick is no double for McEnroe, but he is game for singles

Phil Jackman

July 21, 1993|By Phil Jackman

WASHINGTON -- It would have been so easy to sit back, hone his already impressive doubles game, make an impressive living and let it go at that. After all, the name was already there to be used (or abused): McEnroe.

But that wouldn't have been Patrick, perhaps always to be known as "The Other" McEnroe. He was more interested in his game, not his name.

"It was a tough decision, deciding to make a concerted effort over about a year and a half to get my singles ranking up. But it was something I had to do," he said after breezing past qualifier Michael Sell, 6-2, 6-2, in the first round of the Newsweek Tennis Classic yesterday.

While some might argue tennis is tennis, see the ball, hit the ball, holler at a linesman, pick up a check and head for the next tournament, McEnroe knows better:

"Face it, you don't work very hard in doubles. You can do OK [financially] just playing doubles, but a player's accomplishments in singles will always carry much more weight. The difference between the two is consistency, which comes mainly from constant practice and conditioning.

"There would always be times when I could string a couple of good matches together, but then I was never in good enough shape to sustain it."

Economics dictated that Patrick could not completely forsake doubles while trying to make a name for himself as a singles player.

There was a way to put forth an honest effort in each venture, though. "It was tough bypassing some of the bigger doubles events to go play in a [satellite] tourney, but it's important to get [computer] points so that you don't have to do the grind of playing qualifiers," he said.

Unlike big brother John, who did a year at Stanford, won the NCAA title and immediately turned pro and found fame and fortune, Patrick graduated from the same school and has constructed a to-date modest career slowly but surely.

The last six years of the 1980s, his singles ranking never climbed above No. 360. It was pretty tough to cash in on his ability to play doubles when he wasn't invited to be on hand at a tourney site unless he battled his way through singles qualifying.

With more effort directed toward singles, McEnroe jumped to the 120th spot in 1990, thence to a highly credible No. 36 in 1991. The springboard for that big move was a spot in the semifinals of the Australian Open. That's when Pat learned the part confidence plays in the game.

"When the confidence isn't there, it's tough. You may be hitting the ball the same way as when things were going good, but the results aren't there. You start thinking negatively," he said. "But I guess everyone goes through stages like that; I guess that's what makes the game so intriguing."

With a ranking around No. 100 and a pretty decent record in the major championships -- 14-7 mark entering the year -- Pat not only is avoiding qualifying tourneys, he sometimes gains entry to the main draw of singles via a wild card, his situation this week.

It was a good move by the tournament committee, considering McEnroe is now partnering with Richey Reneberg and, as the No. 3 and No. 5 rated doubles players in the world, respectively, they'll be on the U.S. Davis Cup squad playing in September. Victory is a must or the team will not be included in the main draw of next year's competition.

"One of my goals has always been to play Davis Cup," he said. "I've won a Grand Slam event in doubles [French Open], and I'd like to win another. That's what they remember."

Left unsaid but certainly foremost in his mind is to win the singles title. Chicago, 1991, was the only time he made a final and, as luck would have it, there was brother John to spoil the party.

Besides a banner year in doubles in 1992, winning three tournaments with three partners (for a career total of nine), McEnroe had a couple of quarterfinal finishes in singles while winning 14 of 35 matches and ended up pocketing $390,000.

This, of course, allows a doubles player the opportunity to focus in on singles.

But Patrick McEnroe, remember, took his shot at becoming more of a factor as a singles player back when the checks didn't cover much more than room, board and travel.

"I had to take a shot at improving in singles when I did, because I didn't want to be one of those guys left to wonder what might have been," he said.

"I don't think enough guys who are regarded primarily as doubles players do it."

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