Hardcourt Confidential: Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches
by Patrick Mcenroe
Reviewed by Chuck Thompson
In the acknowledgements of his best-selling 2002 memoir You Cannot Be Serious, combustible tennis legend John McEnroe wrote of his younger brother Patrick: "You're a straight shooter. Just don't write a book now."
With the publication of Hardcourt Confidential: Tales From Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches, Patrick McEnroe and co-author Peter Bodo show what brother John was so paranoid about. Though occasionally tiptoeing around his many friends in the clubby world of elite tennis -- a former Grand Slam doubles champ and singles semifinalist, Patrick McEnroe is the U.S. Davis Cup captain, an ESPN commentator and head of the U.S. Tennis Association's player development program -- he sprays locker-room gossip like the reliable serve-and-volley pro that he was.
Plenty of big names are skewered. Pete Sampras is "kind of a (jerk)," and a vicious cheapskate to boot. Andre Agassi is "one of the most insecure, moody and easily rattled of all great players." Jim Courier prematurely ruined his career by overtraining.
Venus and Serena Williams have been "sucked into that shallow narrative that encourages them to think that they doublehandedly conquered a world that was intrinsically hostile to them." Serena, in particular, "has a great deal to give, if only she could forget about the taking." As for the women's pro tour in general, it's "awash with parents, almost all of them fathers, whose control over their daughters is borderline disturbing."
Patrick McEnroe's insider credentials don't prevent him from writing candidly about his own weaknesses, most memorably when he chokes away an almost certain win against a mentally tougher Jimmy Connors. As Davis Cup captain, he's humbled when a piece of midmatch advice he offers Andy Roddick backfires badly, leading the reeling star to shout at him from the sideline, "That was the worst ... idea -- ever!"
He's also disarmingly frank about his lifelong position in the shadow of a more talented and charismatic brother. He calls John "the Genius" and himself "the Plugger," and admits to fearing the consequences of ever actually beating him in singles, which as a pro he never did.
It's not all wild volleys. Patrick McEnroe is a confirmed fan with a penchant for tennis wonkery. You want deep thoughts on the effects of modern Luxilon polyester strings or Davis Cup scheduling peculiarities? McEnroe is your man. And don't look for dirt on Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. McEnroe has nothing but respect for both, professionally and personally.
Whereas You Cannot Be Serious was a terrific book for John McEnroe fans, Hardcourt Confidential is a blast for all-around tennis fans. There's even a treat for Portland's tennis community. The final chapter is a behind-the-scenes recap of the McEnroe-led American triumph in the 2007 Davis Cup finals held in Memorial Coliseum. That was the event at which the U.S. team led by Roddick and James Blake defeated a game Russian squad to win its first championship since 1995. After reading it you may never take a pre-event national anthem for granted again. And you'll definitely appreciate the "vintage Davis Cup" atmosphere Portland summoned for the event almost as much as the convivial McEnroe enjoys reliving it.