From The Guardian, 28 July 2019
Obituary – Peter McNamara – Australian tennis player who found fame in doubles with Paul McNamee
By Richard Evans
The tennis player Peter McNamara, who has died aged 64 from prostate cancer, was as straightforward as he was talented. “Macca won well and he lost well, which is so hard,” said the other Macca, Paul McNamee, his partner in a famous doubles team.
The pairing worked so well together that they became the SuperMacs of Australian tennis, continuing their nation’s tradition of doubles expertise by taking the Australian Open title in 1979 before winning Wimbledon in 1980 and in 1982, when they beat the great pair of John McEnroe and Peter Fleming in straight sets. Of the 19 doubles titles that McNamara won around the world, 14 came with McNamee.
For a time McNamara was also a force in singles, winning five titles from 12 appearances in finals. He reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open twice, as well as the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and the French Open. In 1983 he rose to No 7 in the singles rankings. However, that promise remained unfulfilled after he was compelled to retire four years later from both singles and doubles competition on the ATP tour. His progress was halted at precisely the moment he gained his highest ranking, which came as a result of defeating Ivan Lendl, close to the peak of his powers at the time, in the final of an indoor tournament at Brussels.
A subsequent short trip down the autoroute took the tour to Rotterdam for the next tournament, and sections of the acrylic hardcourt surface went with it. But in the new venue the edges of the boards on which the acrylic surface were laid proved to be uneven. Playing Jiří Granát in the first round, McNamara put his foot on the affected area, twisted his knee, and that, in effect, marked the end of a career that many experts felt stood on the threshold of greatness.
Bill Norris, the chief physio on the ATP tour, was immediately at McNamara’s side as he fell in agony. “Peter tore the anterior cruciate ligament,” Norris said. “He also damaged his medial meniscus on the warped boards. He went through months of rehab but his mobility was never quite the same.” McNamara was off the tour for 21 months and the victory over Lendl proved to be the last singles title he won. “Macca’s backhand was as good as I have ever seen – one-handed, beautiful,” said Pat Cash, who was emerging as a top Australian Davis Cup player around the same time.
In 1981, McNamara’s all-round ability had shown itself to the world when he won the German Open by overcoming Jimmy Connors 7-6, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 in the best match I saw him play. Even allowing for the fact that European clay was not Connors’ best surface it was a considerable achievement. With its damp climate, the clay at Hamburg’s Rothenbaum club is some of the heaviest on the circuit and few naturally attacking players enjoy ploughing through it.
But, unlike Connors, McNamara had done his homework on the stuff. Through the summers of 1977 and 1978 he had opted out of the main ATP tour to accept invitations in small events all over France, from Beaulieu on the Mediterranean coast to La Baule on the Atlantic. “Great for my clay court game,” I remember him telling me with a grin. “Great food and wine, everyone seems pleased to see me and I get a few hundred francs guaranteed.” It was the making of a fine clay court player.
Once he realised that his knee would never recover properly, McNamara took up coaching and became a tough taskmaster. I remember him arriving in Toulouse with a young Mark Philippoussis, imparting a few terse words about work ethic. Philippoussis took much of what McNamara taught him to heart, and went on the reach the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open.
Later, McNamara worked with Grigor Dimitrov at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in Paris, then Matt Ebden and, until February this year, with the Chinese player Wang Qiang, whose WTA ranking rose to No 20 under his guidance.
Born in Melbourne, where his father had a haberdashery store, Peter was educated at Marcellin college, a Catholic school in Bulleen. Soon after joining the pro tour he teamed up with McNamee, who was from a less privileged background. “We were different personalities but we quickly accepted it was futile trying to change one another,” said McNamee. “The main point was that our games complemented each other’s.”
Later in life McNamara settled in Sonthofen in southern Germany, at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, with his wife, Petra (formerly Leiner). She survives him, along with the sons, Daniel and Justin, of his first marriage, to Catie Raynor, which ended in divorce, and the daughter, Rochelle, and son, Julien, he had with his partner Isabella Cowan.
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