Tennis legend John McEnroe opens up about tumultuous past and seeing 37 therapists for anger

·2 min read

US tennis great John McEnroe has opened up about his past in a new documentary and said that only the process of aging has mellowed his famous temper.

In the new documentary McEnroe, which will begin streaming on Showtime in September, the retired star spoke about not just attempting to control his anger, but also about infidelity, symptoms of perfectionism and depression, drug abuse, parenting, and whether his career was “worth it.”

“I did learn you have to be a bit of a lunatic out there,” McEnroe says at one point in a trailer for the new documentary.

Lunatic is, for a time, how plenty of tennis fans would have described the New Yorker. McEnroe was at one point refused an honorary membership to the All England Club because of his on-court meltdowns that often included berating match officials and, on one occasion, throwing a drinks tray.

“You have to develop an edge to be great at something,” McEnroe says in the trailer. “I had that. And then, boom. There’s something clearly wrong.”

McEnroe is also open about his challenging relationship with his alcoholic father, US Air Force veteran John Patrick McEnroe. The elder Mr McEnroe served as his son’s agent for the majority of his professional career, but McEnroe fired him at a low point in his career in 1986. They later had a falling out and did not reconcile before Mr McEnroe died in 2017.

McEnroe’s struggles with anger and perfectionism were so pronounced, he says in the trailer, that 37 different psychologists and psychiatrists were unable to help him.

Despite the personal turmoil that accompanied much of it, McEnroe put together one of the most accomplished careers in men’s tennis history.

He won seven Grand Slam singles tournaments, including the US Open in his native New York four times, and added nine Grand Slam doubles championships to his trophy haul. He was also a member of five Davis Cup-winning teams and was ranked number one in the world for multiple years.

In 1984, McEnroe had one of the all-time great seasons — going 82–3 and winning an astounding 13 different singles tournaments.

Since retiring from the tour, McEnroe has worked as a musician and actor, a coach, and a media personality and match broadcaster with the likes of ESPN — seemingly finding a sense of groundedness and happiness that eluded him for much of his playing career.