© AELTC/Michael Cole

Paul McNamee and Peter McNamara receive the 1980 Wimbledon doubles trophies from The Duke and Duchess of Kent.

Peter McNamara: 1955-2019

Fun-loving and gentleman Australian, whose personality radiated

Peter McNamara, who joined forces with Paul McNamee to become one of the best doubles teams of the early 1980s and reached the singles Top 10 in the ATP Rankings, passed away aged 64 on Saturday, at his home in Sonthofen, southern Germany, after a long and private battle with prostate cancer.

McNamara, whose fun-loving personality, dry sense of humour and no-nonsense Australian attitude lit up the sport, as much as his consistent clean ball-striking on a variety of surfaces, was a universally respected professional, inspirational coach and mentor for more than 40 years.

Chris Kermode, the ATP Executive Chairman and President, said: "I was incredibly saddened to hear the news of Peter’s passing. When I went to Australia at the age of 16 knowing hardly anyone, Peter was already very well-known and successful, and yet he still had time for me to impart his guidance, show kindness, and provide a lot of laughter too! Anyone who was around at that time and was lucky enough to be in his world will miss him. He was a rare breed - funny, charming, loyal and a straight talker at all times, I’ll always remember his friendship."

“Peter was a hero of mine,” Pat Cash told ATPTour.com. “In fact, I ball boy-ed for him in a state final in Melbourne when I was a kid. He was someone I looked up to as he was the top Australian at the time. We were so proud that a fellow Melbournian had cracking the Top 10 in 1981.

“As a player he possessed one of the game’s greatest single-handed backhands, which he thumped with incredible power, taking the ball on the rise with consistency and precision. At times it was unplayable, breath-taking and I tried to emulate it. He was truly a forerunner and ahead of the game with this shot, which can be seen today in a player like Roger Federer.”

As the best prospect to come out of Australia since the era of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe, Melbourne-born McNamara broke into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings on 27 July 1981 — the first Australian man to do so since John Alexander in 1975 — two months after he had beaten Jimmy Connors 7-6, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 in the German Open final on Hamburg’s clay — perhaps, his finest individual achievement. The 6’1”, 160-pound right-hander also defeated Kevin Curren, Vitas Gerulaitis and then World No. 1 Ivan Lendl 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 for the 1983 Brussels Indoors title — his fifth singles crown in his 12th final.

McNamara’s best Grand Slam championship singles performances came at the Australian Open, where in 1980 and 1982 he advanced to the semi-finals. He held one match point at 5-3 in the fifth set of his 1982 semi-final against Johan Kriek, when he was left to rue not attacking a second delivery. He also made the quarter-finals at 1981 Wimbledon and 1982 Roland Garros.

His turnaround in singles fortunes came about in February 1981, when McNamee and Kiwi Chris Lewis, both using over-sized racquets, consistently got the better of McNamara in reflex volleying drills on courts at Harry Hopman's Tennis Academy in Bardmoor, Florida, close to where he lived in Madiera Beach. Having broken a string in his only racquet, McNamara picked up one of Lewis’ spare frames and found it to his liking. The switch provided marginal improvement on his serve, but his forehand — once a problem for the Australian — became a major weapon. In early 1982, he was named the ATP's Most Improved Player.

McNamara’s greatest successes were in tandem with his childhood friend McNamee, which included the 1979 Australian Open and two Wimbledons in 1980 and 1982, among 14 doubles titles in under four years. The pair also won the 1981 Masters Doubles title on the World Championship Tennis tour, which lasted until the emergence of the ATP Tour in 1990. They were later significant influences on the ‘Woodies’, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.

Their nickname, ‘Super Macs’, originating from a poster produced by their racquet sponsor Prince shortly after their first Wimbledon win, may never have seen the light of day. In June 1980, their form was scratchy and a run to the Roland Garros semi-finals did not dissuade McNamara from securing a new partner, Bruce Manson, for that year’s championship. But while McNamee admitted they needed a break, and the Wimbledon doubles deadline looming, upon his visit to McNamara’s hotel room, he managed to talk around his partner.

McNamara sprained an ankle in his first-round singles loss to Warren Maher and two days later, ahead of their first doubles match, he couldn’t put any weight on the leg. Miraculously, they persisted and beat Byron Bertram and Bernard Mitton, before three days of rain ensured McNamara was able to sufficiently recover to continue at The Championships. By the time they beat Robert Lutz and Stan Smith 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4 in the final on the old No. 1 Court at Wimbledon, as a result of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe epic 18-16 fourth-set tie-break match on Centre Court, their partnership was cemented.

In 1982, the ‘Super Macs’ captured their second Wimbledon title with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Peter Fleming and McEnroe, who, still seething from his five-set singles final loss to Connors earlier in the day, had successfully petitioned the All England Club committee to make the doubles final the best-of-three sets, rather than best-of-five because of the fading light.

When back spasms sidelined McNamee, McNamara partnered Heinz Gunthardt to four trophies, but the pair had to default ahead of the 1981 US Open doubles final after the Swiss became ill.

A couple of days after beating Lendl for the 1983 Brussels title, McNamara’s peak performance days were significantly dented in a freak accident in Rotterdam, when one of his legs twisted in the joins of the indoor carpet during a first-round match against Czech Jiri Granat. Thinking he'd return in a few weeks, torn knee ligament and cartilages resulted in a 21-month absence. Having undergone a three-hour operation in Toronto in January 1984, he did not return until November for the 1984 Australian Open, and once again, later the next season at Wimbledon, where he reunited with McNamee, McNamara wore long trousers to cover up the full extent of his injury.

He attained a singles career-high of No. 7 on 14 March 1983, rose to No. 3 in the ATP Doubles Rankings on 13 December 1982 and represented Australia in 21 Davis Cup singles and doubles rubbers over a six-year period, culminating in the 1986 title run. McNamara missed out on being a part of Australia’s 1983 Cup-winning team due to his knee injury, which largely ended his singles career.

After retiring as a player shortly after his 32nd birthday in 1987, McNamara enjoyed a successful coaching career with the likes of Mark Philippoussis, Grigor Dimitrov (as a part of the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Paris from 2009), Matthew Ebden and, until February this year, with China’s Wang Qiang, who broke into the Top 20 of the WTA Rankings shortly prior to illness prevented him from undertaking further international travel. For many years, he was also a highly entertaining competitor on the ATP Champions Tour, regularly featuring in December at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Ebden told ATPTour.com, “He was a real genuine, honest guy, very disciplined and hard working. He called it how it was and didn’t beat around the bush. He was really respectful, with sound ethics. An authentic person. He is a great Australian. He always liked to say he’d take the front seat in the car, as he got to No. 7 in singles.”

McNamara, who lived in Melbourne, Hertfordshire (England) and Madiera Beach, Florida during his playing career, and most recently in Germany for many years, is survived by his third wife, Petra, and four children, Justin and Daniel, Rochelle and Julien.

“He never ever complained about his illness and just got on with his coaching work,” Cash told ATPTour.com. “He achieved great results with his Chinese players and was a regular on the legends tour. His baseline hitting, and net play made any match he played in fantastic entertainment. I’m proud to say that he was an inspiration to me. Peter will be sadly missed around the circuit.”

Vale Peter McNamara, tennis player and coach, born 5 July 1955, died 21 July 2019


McNamara family statement: We are sad to announce the passing of tennis icon and former professional player Peter McNamara who passed away in Germany on the 20th of July after a long-losing battle with cancer.

“Peter, “Macca”, was a former top ATP player who won five singles titles on the ATP tour and 19 doubles titles throughout his career. He reached his highest career ranking of No. 7 in March 1983. Through his passion for tennis, he touched many lives and shared his wealth of experience through coaching juniors as well as professional players such as Mark Philippoussis, Grigor Dimitrov and Qiang Wang. Macca lived his life to the fullest, and was always a great company with a good sense of humour. He’ll be remembered very fondly in the tennis community around the world and he leaves behind his wife, children, grandchildren and the rest of his family and friends.

“The family is incredibly proud of Peter’s achievements, but most of all the strength and determination he showed in his battle with cancer. For more than 10 years he kept it discreet and never allowed it to stop him from doing what he loved — to play tennis.”

Peter Fleming told ATPTour.com, “Macca was one of the most talented players of our era and a fierce competitor. More importantly, he had a heart of gold, a great friend to a lot of people.”

Stan Smith told ATPTour.com, “Peter was one of the great Australians who along with Paul McNamee beat us in the Wimbledon doubles final. More than that he was a great guy who was always enjoyable to be with and had a great attitude about life. I always liked him.”