WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — There are not many people who can say they’ve beaten John McEnroe on the tennis court, but one Wilmington man can say he’s done it multiple times.
As the next generation of tennis hopefuls learned from one of the game’s all-time greats, Larry Linett saw a piece of his past.
“I was from upstate New York in Albany,” Linett said. “John was down in Long Island in the Douglaston area, and we played many tournaments in the juniors.”
It was nearly four decades ago, but Linett and McEnroe played four times as juniors. Three times Linett won.
“All our matches were knock-down-drag-out matches,” Linett said. “I mean never was an easy match in the four.”
McEnroe recalls it a little differently.
“He didn’t seem to have a great forehand, a great serve, great volley, so I called my parents up. I said, ‘Don’t worry about this. I got it under control,'” McEnroe said. “And I lost 6-0, 6-2.”
The duo were not just opponents. In 1970 they won the under 12 doubles title at the Orange Bowl International tournament.
Time took the tween phenoms in different directions.
Linett is a doctor in Wilmington watching his kids play the game he still loves.
McEnroe, of course, became a tennis legend as much for his talent as his temper; both of which he developed at an early age.
“John, even back then, had a pretty good temper,” Linett said.
While Linett may hold the advantage in their head-to-head series, Sunday it was “love-love” as the childhood rivals met again during a clinic for kids at Wilmington’s Althea Gibson Tennis Center at Empie Park before McEnroe’s exhibition match with Todd Martin in the Azalea Festival Tennis Challenge. McEnroe signed an old picture of himself with Linett after their Orange Bowl tournament win, “To Larry: It feels like yesterday.”
All these years later, McEnroe says those matches against Linett had an impact on his career.
“I learned some of the things that you believe are not going to come true until you work at it, and I needed to work on my all-around game,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion said. “But he definitely inspired me, made me think I gotta get it together a little more, and it worked out for me.”
It’s a lesson McEnroe now shares with players hoping to follow in his legendary footsteps.
Linett’s children were among the dozens to show up at the free clinic.
McEnroe said he is impressed by Wilmington’s commitment to getting kids to play tennis. He said he’s trying to do the same in native New York.