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John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were fierce competitors on the tennis court. They also aren’t the best of friends. McEnroe, known for his quick temper and for speaking his mind, said he has always likened his tennis nemesis to Pete Rose.

John McEnroe’s tennis career

John McEnroe was as good as he was fiery. McEnroe was both intense and dominant on the tennis court. According to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, McEnroe was ranked in the World Top 10 for nine years and finished first in four consecutive years from 1981-1984.

McEnroe won 77 singles titles, 72 in doubles competition and was ranked No. 1 in the world in both categories. He finished his Hall-of-Fame career with an 877-198 career record in singles and a 532-103 mark in doubles. He’s a three-time singles winner of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He made the Wimbledon final in 1980, but fell to Bjorn Borg in one of the most epic matches in history. Borg won 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6.

McEnroe had arguably his best year in 1984. That year, the left-hander put together the best singles record in the Open Era, compiling an 82-3 mark. He made his lone French Open final in 1984, but fell to Ivan Lendl. His doubles resume was extremely impressive as well as he teamed with Peter Fleming to win 52 doubles titles, including four at Wimbledon (1979, 1981, 1983, 1984) and three at the US Open (1979, 1981, 1983).

John McEnroe vs. Jimmy Connors

It just might be the biggest rivalry in tennis. If it’s not the biggest, it’s certainly right near the top. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors faced off against each other 34 times between 1977 and 1991. After the two players were into retirement, Connors told The Independent, “To have carried on this rivalry for so many years, and for you still to be talking about it, must mean that we made our mark somewhere,” he said.

The two first met in 1977 in the semifinals at Wimbledon when Connors won 6–3, 6–3, 4–6, 6–4. In fact, when it came to head-to-head matches, Connors won the first four meetings. Connors held a 6-1 advantage in personal matchups before McEnroe came on strong and went 20-14 against Connors in their 34 meetings.

Beginning in 1983 at the Cincinnati Open and running through the Pacific Coast Championships in 1986, McEnroe didn’t lose to Connors. He won 11 straight singles matches that spanned four years. Connors snapped his personal losing streak to McEnroe at the Canadian Open in 1987.

McEnroe likens Connors to Pete Rose

The respect was there. The love for each other wasn’t. In a 2018 interview with Graham Bensinger, John McEnroe was asked why he and Jimmy Connors didn’t get like each other. “Besides him being a complete a–hole?” McEnroe said. “And him thinking I was? We have some ancestry that we might be somewhat volatile. We might get upset, maybe more easily than others. From his perspective, I could understand and I’d be the same way if some 18-year-old kid – and I’m like number one or two in the world – and he’s trying to take my mantle or trying to become the number one American. I can see why he would not like that.”

Although there is a strong dislike for each other, the respect is there. “We don’t like each other,” McEnroe said. “If we were in a room together, we could talk. We always had respect for each other. The only guy who’s ever tried harder on a tennis court is Raffy Nadal, in my book, and he’s not far behind. I hope I made him better and I know he made me better.”

McEnroe likened Connors to Pete Rose. “They look like twins to me,” he said. “They have the same haircuts and the way they played, that intensity. When Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game and you’re like what in God’s name is this guy doing? They had this chip on their shoulder like everyone was against them. So I look at those two, literally, as almost the exact same people.


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