The Match Against McEnroe

Picture of Larry Gottfried

“‘I’ve never heard my name chanted before, and when I won, it was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had on tennis court’” (Neyland, 1978, p. 10).

Larry Gottfried

Click above to learn a little bit more about Larry Gottfried

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Flyer on campus advertising the 1978 match between #1 Stanford and #2 Trinity. This match was between both the women and men's teams.

One of the pinnacle moments of Trinity tennis came in 1978. Number one Stanford versus number two Trinity. It was a match between both and men and women’s teams. According to The Mirage, about 1,500 fans gathered at the Al G. Hill tennis courts to witness the highly anticipated match. The attendance alones likely suggests the dominance and popularity of tennis at the time. Men’s head coach at the time Bob McKinley, who played from 1969-1970 and coached from 1975-1984, described the uniqueness of the team Trinity had. When he played for Trinity, he said everyone knew who the players were and would often come to the matches. McKinley described his experience as a player by stating, “What stood out while playing was that Trinity was so unique. We were the only school in the country where tennis was the number one sport” (Personal interview, 2016). He was a young coach, fresh off the pro circuit and ready to coach a group of talented guys through a tough match. With only four courts and limited stadium seating, they dropped the net on one of the end courts and added bleachers to accommodate for more fans. People often watched from the roof of Murchison dorms as well.

The top players of the Trinity team consisted of four freshmen who rotated in positions one through four. McKinley approached Gottfried to ask him about playing John McEnroe, who was the number one player for Stanford. McEnroe was becoming an established player, making it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon, one of the most prestigious of the four Grand Slam Tournaments, the summer before and was undefeated leading up to this match (Personal interview, 2016). According to McKinley, many people did not know the history between the two players. The two played numerous times in juniors and were doubles partners in the 1976 U.S. Open and again in 1977 (“Larry Gottfried Stats and Bio,” 2013). McEnroe and Gottfried had grown up playing each other many times, but McEnroe had always won. However, a rematch was set and “Gottfried had McEnroe’s number,” McKinley said (Personal interview, 2016).

McKinley took the first set and the score was 5-5 in the second set until Gottfried broke McEnroe’s serve to make it 6-5. As they switched sides, “in unison the crowd chanted ‘Gottfried’ and it sent chills up my spine,” Coach McKinley remembered (Personal interview, 2016). Gottfried pulled out the match 6-3, 7-6 and handed McEnroe his only collegiate career loss. Coach McKinley describes this match as one of the highlights of Trinity tennis.

McEnroe went on to win a NCAA championship in both singles and as a team that year before officially joining the professional tour (“John McEnroe,” 2016). Today, many would consider McEnroe one of the best players to play the game. Newsday ranked him the tenth best player of all time, winning a total of 71 titles and 7 Grand Slams (Williams, 2015). This was a big win for Trinity tennis and its history. Larry Gottfried described that match in the most humble way. “He’s a better player,” Gottfried said. “He was sick the day before and there was a debate on whether he was going to play. I wasn’t playing the McEnroe who was McEnroe,” according to Gottfried (Personal interview, 2016). Gottfried had mentioned how they had played six months earlier and lost to McEnroe 6-2, 6-2 (Personal interview, 2016). As great as this moment was for Gottfried though, he had bigger plans in mind; a national championship for his team. Although this never came for that team, they are a group of players that deserve recognition for their outstanding contribution to this program.