ATP Tour

McEnroe turned down $1m to play in SA during apartheid

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John McEnroe (Getty)
John McEnroe (Getty)

Cape Town - American tennis legend John McEnroe has recalled how he turned down $1 million to play great rival Bjorn Borg in South Africa in 1980.

The two tennis legends had squared off in a memorable Wimbledon final that year, with Borg prevailing in five sets.

In an interview with American journalist Graham Bensinger (WATCH in the video clip below), the 59-year-old McEnroe said he turned down the substantial offer in protest of South Africa’s apartheid policy at the time.

“At that time it was worth at least $10 million now or more, but I feel proud that I made that decision at the time,” McEnroe said.

“I though to myself ‘yeah this is an unbelievable amount of money but there’s a reason why they’re offering it - because they’re going to take advantage of me and sort of use that propaganda in a way’.

“I was 21 but I could get that, so I wasn’t going to be the pawn in that whole thing. So I took pride in that. It felt wrong... it wasn’t that difficult a decision. I was 21, I didn’t need the money that bad yet. I think that was one of the better decisions that I made in my career.”

McEnroe, who became famous for foul-mouthed outbursts towards officials, also revealed that he had met Nelson Mandela in later years.

The seven-time Grand Slam winner said Mandela told him it was an honour to meet him and that he had listened to his famous match with Borg on radio while in prison on Robben Island.

“It was the most amazing person I ever met. He had these big hands that felt so warm. It was like an angel on earth,” McEnroe said of Mandela.

The 1980 Wimbledon final is best remembered for an extraordinary fourth-set tie-break which McEnroe claimed 18/16 to take the match into a decider.

Despite squandering several match-points, Borg kept his calm before prevailing 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16/18), 8-6.

McEnroe got his revenge the following year when he beat Borg 4-6, 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 in the 1981 Wimbledon final.

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