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Four angrily shouted words which will be forever synonymous with tennis player John McEnroe –"You cannot be serious!"

Thirty five years ago today the British press was in a frenzy about the on-court behaviour of McEnroe on the opening day of the 1981 Wimbledon tournament. Although McEnroe went on to win his first of three Wimbledon titles, the 1981 tournament was more memorable for his angry outbursts and abusive tirades against linesmen, umpires and event the tournament referee.

Already nicknamed "SuperBrat" by the press for his frequent tantrums, McEnroe's behaviour on the opening day of Wimbledon dominated the front pages of national newspapers, with calls for him to be thrown out of the tournament. 

It was during his first round match with Tom Gullikson that McEnroe appeared to go into a petulant meltdown. When his serve was called out, he slowly approached the umpire's chair, saying "chalk came up all over the place... you can't be serious man". When he got no response he yelled "You cannot be serious!" following up with a quieter "You guys are the absolute pits of the world" as he turned and walked away. He was also heard to call the linesman an "incompetent fool".

McEnroe was docked a point for his behaviour, and another later in the same match, but it didn't end there, with tournament referee Fred Hoyles called to the court. Although their conversation was not picked up on microphones, it was said to include at least one four-letter insult from McEnroe.

Following his first round defeat by McEnroe, Gullikson decided to also pull out of the doubles competition and fly home to be with his wife, who was expecting their baby any day. On visiting the Referees Office to formally withdraw, he was told by Fred Hoyles that he could be fined for pulling out when he wasn't sick or injured.

In a later interview, Gullikson said he had replied:  "Well Fred, you could (fine me), but I could also tell the press what John McEnroe called you on Court 1 yesterday."

At that point Mr Hoyles wished him a safe flight home and best regards to his wife and their new baby!

Commentators were divided over whether McEnroe's frequent outbursts were just his fiery temperament or some kind of gamesmanship deliberately designed to unsettle his opponents. McEnroe was fined $1,500 for his first round outbursts, but still went on to win the tournament, beating his arch-rival Bjorn Borg in the final.

But it was those four words – "You cannot be serious!" – which would become his calling card, still inseparably linked to him 35 years on.

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