Twenty-five years ago this month, John McEnroe was tossed from the 1990 Australian Open. For muttering, under his breath in the direction of summoned tournament referee Pete Bellinger, a coarse insult punctuated by an expletive.
What McEnroe muttered that day is still a closely guarded secret. And so, it is Mac’s famous 1981 Wimbledon chair umpire putdown (“You cannot be serious!”) that must frame media coverage of the ignominious Silver Anniversary.
For example, when McEnroe – back in Melbourne to cover the 2015 Australian Open for ESPN – recently chatted with Sharri Markson, media editor for daily newspaper The Australian, he responded playfully to a question about the sport’s current state vis-a-vis “sledging” (Australian for “trash talking”) with: “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!!!” (The caps are the paper’s not ours.)
Similarly, McEnroe’s 1981 zing is the headline volley for a recent look back at the events of Sunday January 21, 1990 by New York Times global sports columnist Christopher Clarey [click image to enlarge]:
Clarey’s wonderful article ends with a reminder of how the “Serious!” battle cry continues to follow McEnroe, who used it for the title of his autobiography and, ostensibly, may tap it one final time in the distant future for tombstone purposes:
McEnroe says that when he takes on players in matches now, he can hear the fans yelling his signature phrase, “You cannot be serious”; and can sense the frustration in the stands if he does not deliver an outburst.
“They’re disappointed,” he said. “And so that’s sort of a weird dynamic, to put it mildly — that I’m actually getting paid extra for things I used to get fined for.”