Bad Boys of Tennis from the 90s
The 1990s were a golden era for tennis, producing some of the most iconic and polarizing figures in the sport’s history.
The tennis court was not just a battleground for athletic prowess, but a theater of personality, attitude, and defiance. Among these larger-than-life characters, there was a breed of players that questioned authority at every turn and elevated the excitement of the game.
When it comes to the original tennis bad boy, John McEnroe’s name is synonymous with controversy. Let’s face it, McEnroe is the OG when it comes to bad boy. He’d make this list in the 70s, 80s and 90s. McEnroe’s fiery on-court temper and penchant for arguing with officials is legendary. He had a volatile relationship with chair umpires and was never shy about expressing his frustration with line calls. His outbursts often led to code violations, and fans detested him in the beginning. That all changed by the time he was playing in the 90s. Crowds loved him. Despite the tantrums, McEnroe was one of the most talented players of his time, winning seven Grand Slam singles titles. His sheer talent and confrontational style make him the undisputed number one badboy of ’90s tennis.
Andre Agassi, with his wild, colorful outfits and unconventional style, was a rebel of a different sort. At the outset of his career, Agassi was criticized for his flamboyant fashion sense and his tendency to rock long hair and earrings on the court. Yet, what sets Agassi apart is his transformation from a brash young talent to a respected elder statesman of the game. Despite being an elder statesman at the tail end of his career, Agassi was often short with umpires and was quick to question calls that he didn’t agree with. He would also have contentious rivalries with players such as Boris Becker. There was always an edginess around Agassi during his playing days.
Boris Becker, the German sensation, often challenged the traditional norms of tennis in his era. Known for his diving volleys and aggressive playing style, Becker was a force to be reckoned with on the court. However, it was his off-court escapades and relationships that often put him in the headlines. His high-profile romances and party lifestyle occasionally overshadowed his tennis achievements, including six Grand Slam titles. Becker’s image as a bad boy, driven by his charisma and off-court exploits, solidifies his place in this list.
Goran Ivanisevic, a Croatian tennis maverick, was notorious for his unpredictability. His game was a mixture of blistering serves and unorthodox shot selection. Ivanisevic’s on-court behavior, including racquet-smashing tantrums and animated outbursts, endeared him to fans who loved his passionate, sometimes comical, antics. He would often say that there were always two Goran’s on court, good Goran and bad Goran. Despite all his emotional outbursts, in 2001, he achieved his crowning moment by winning Wimbledon as a wildcard entry, a true underdog story that added to his legend. Ivanisevic’s captivating presence and emotional rollercoaster on the court make him a memorable tennis badboy.
Although not as widely recognized as the others on this list, Jeff Tarango deserves a spot among the ’90s tennis badboys. The American player gained infamy in 1995 during Wimbledon when he verbally abused an umpire and stormed off the court. His actions led to a suspension and a media firestorm. His wife famously contributed to the controversy as well, slapping the referee at some point while the referee was making his way to the press conference. While not a major Grand Slam contender, Tarango’s outburst at Wimbledon and his unapologetic attitude solidify his place as one of the notable bad boys of tennis from that era.
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