John McEnroe’s father calls. In fact, he calls McEnroe’s manager’s phone, presumably because dad doesn’t have a direct line to the great man himself. John Sr, who is tennis-mad, has a request: can he come with his son to a veterans’ tournament in Belgium? McEnroe is horrified. Having dad around is a major drag. ‘I was about to say absolutely not,’ he writes — when his old rival Björn Borg, who happens to be dining with him, interjects: ‘Let me speak to him.’ Borg, who had lost his own father three years earlier, tells McEnroe Sr: ‘Don’t worry, JP, if John doesn’t bring you to Knokke-Heist, I will.’
The story nicely summarises McEnroe’s current existence: celebrity company, low-stakes pleasure-seeking and indifference to others. Judging by his banal thoughts on modern tennis, he doesn’t seem very interested in the game anymore either. His memoir Serious was a bestseller, but this sequel is a book too far, written for a payday he doesn’t need. Still, it works as an unintentional anthropology of celebrity life.
A star of the 1980s, McEnroe then faced the eternal ex-athlete’s question: how to fill the rest of his life? An articulate lawyer’s son, an enduring legend thanks chiefly to his on-court temper tantrums, he was better placed than most. He has proved an excellent commentator during big tournaments, as he’ll remind us this fortnight at Wimbledon.
However, that only fills a few weeks a year. Nothing else has quite stuck. He has done a spot of art-dealing, hosted unsuccessful talk shows, raised six children, and coached Milos Raonic to last year’s men’s Wimbledon final. He still circles the world playing veterans’ tennis, shoots commercials (often enacting temper tantrums), performs cameos in his friends’ films or as a semi-skilled guitarist at their concerts, or just hangs out.