Korda had a slick lefty slider, but he couldn't really hit it too well up the T. Knowing he'd still try to squeeze it in there to my forehand, I slid over a little—just enough to allow me to step around and hit the return with my backhand. The return went straight down the middle, between them. Game, set, match, Hlasek and Patrick McEnroe. John was disgusted—totally pissed. But on that occasion he didn't sulk. After a few hours, his sense of humor returned. He laughed as he told me the exact words he had spoken to Korda in their mini-conference at the baseline, right before Korda served that match ball.
"Whatever you do," John had said, "make sure you keep it away from Pat's backhand."
If you look up the last singles title John won on the main tour you'll see it was in Chicago, in February of 1991, and the guy he beat, 6–4, in the third was me. John played with his usual intensity that night; the only thing that made it different from the two previous times we'd played was that it was no beatdown. It was a match I could have won. I can only imagine how John would have reacted had that happened.
John was near the end of his career, and I was playing as well as ever. If ever I had a chance to win a big singles match from him, this was it. But I remember thinking, Shit, if I win this match, he'll never talk to me again. I knew that losing the match would hurt him a lot more than it hurt me. At one point early in the match, I glanced at the courtside boxes, and there sat our father, proud as a peacock. He had flown in from New York, just to be part of this great family event—life as it should be for the McEnroes, the first family of men's tennis. If he only knew—really knew—that it was never quite as joyous an event for us as it was for him.
I took my foot off the gas in that match, just that little bit that made all the difference in the world. I'm not saying I would have won it had I been playing without inhibitions. I can't claim that I should have won it, on form, either. I just know I was thinking, Do I really want to win this? It would be such a hard pill for John to swallow.... I don't begrudge John for beating me that night, or spanking the tar out of me in our other two singles matches, at Stratton Mountain, Vermont, and Basel, Switzerland. You play tennis to win; you owe it to yourself, and you also owe it to the paying customers, as well as your support team. John always played to win, and there's a beautiful kind of integrity in that—it's honest. I just didn't have the same degree of ruthless, blind drive. Down deep, I knew I didn't want to beat my brother.
I also learned that night that if I lacked anything in my career as a singles player, it was that extra dose of desire, or maybe it's need. John wanted and needed to win every match. If he lost, it was never because he went soft, or let anything undermine his desire. That night, he flew back to Los Angeles, into a marriage that was beginning to unravel. I flew in the other direction, back to New York, seated next to my dad, who was still feeling euphoric about that great day for the McEnroes.
On the way, we flew through one of the worst storms I ever experienced on an airplane. The plane was pitching and wallowing through the night. I clutched the armrests with both hands, hoping that we'd make it home.
Down and Out in Paris (Bercy)