The Aussie happy to be knocked out at Wimbledon by John McEnroe

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Joshn McEnroe knocked Australian challenger Tony Rocavert out of Wimbledon in 1980, unaware their match had been a career defining moment for Rocavert. Picture: Allsport Hulton/Archive/Getty Images
Joshn McEnroe knocked Australian challenger Tony Rocavert out of Wimbledon in 1980, unaware their match had been a career defining moment for Rocavert. Picture: Allsport Hulton/Archive/Getty Images

Terry Rocavert found himself seated just 10m away from the great John McEnroe at Wimbledon, a couple of decades after the pair had met in an epic second round encounter on the famous grass courts.

The American was there for a stint of television commentary, the Australian on holiday and taking a trip down memory lane.

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Rocavert wanted to approach McEnroe but something inside him held him back.

"I never met him before our match and never met him after it. We didn’t even share the same dressing-room,' Rocavert explained.

"For me it was like a lifetime experience but for him it was one moment in a thousand moments.

"He may have remembered it but I doubt it."

It was late June 1980 when McEnroe walked on court against the little-known Aussie from Sydney's inner west.

"SuperMac" was fresh off wins at the US Open and Queens and had places to be and bigger fish to fry.

Rocavert was a battler ranked around 100 places below McEnroe.

He thought so little of his chances he left wife Kay back at their London apartment so she could finish packing the pair's luggage and tidying the flat before returning the keys for the trip home to Australia.

Every night they spent in London was costing them plenty, but at least the second-round losers' cheque of a 1000 pounds would be some compensation.

Tony Rocavert describes Wimbledon showdown against John McEnroe

Re-starting the match at 2-2 the day after rain had brought a halt to proceedings, something came over Rocavert.

He was in the zone, as professional sports people refer to it, where everything he hit turned to gold.

He could have used the handle of his racquet and still landed winners against an increasingly frustrated McEnroe.

The 25-year-old Sydneysider won the first set, dropped the second but recovered to take the third on the back of a crushing 7-0 win in the tie-breaker.

Word reverberated around Wimbledon. A massive upset was brewing and McEnroe was about to be shown the door by a bloke who had his flight booked home that night.

It was like their rankings had been reversed.

John McEnroe battled his way to the 1980 Wimbledon final, only to lose to Bjorn Borg. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival )
John McEnroe battled his way to the 1980 Wimbledon final, only to lose to Bjorn Borg. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival )

That's when Rocavert's mind began to wander….and wonder.

What would life look like if he pulled off the unthinkable and dumped McEnroe out of the world's biggest tennis tournament?

The publicity, the pressure, the expectation.

It all became too much.

"I started to think about the press conference and what I might be asked," Rocavert revealed.

"This was going to be a big deal if I won. I lost whatever that edge is you need."

McEnroe regain his composure to win the fourth and fifth sets, going on to meet Bjorn Borg in the final, which he lost in a famous five-setter.

Rocavert returned to Australia and back into relative anonymity.

Now 66 and managing the Birchgrove Tennis Centre, he looks back on the McEnroe match with a sense of relief he didn’t win.

"I was a lot better off because I didn't win. I was treated a lot more favourably (by the media and public) so I was happy I didn’t win.

"I wanted to test myself against the best and getting close was good enough for me.

"I think my life would have been a lot worse off had I won."

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