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Passing of time hasn’t mellowed John McEnroe
‘80s icon assesses state of the sport
John McEnroe would doubtless make a successful politician, as a player well-known for confrontation during his career. Unfortunately, he never considered such a career choice.
“The closer I got to [D.C.], the less I considered it,” he told reporters.
After several minutes of fielding questions about the state of men’s tennis in a serious, droning voice before the Washington Kastles’ match against the New York Sportimes, McEnroe injected some humor into the proceedings when he was asked which politician he would like to face in a match.
“I would want to play Obama in hoops,” he said. “He claims to be a great basketball player. I used to think of myself as a decent one. I think I’d do pretty well against him in tennis, but I’m not so sure about basketball.”
The German-born American is among the most decorated players in tennis history, a winner of seven Grand Slam titles in singles, nine in men’s doubles and one in mixed doubles. Although McEnroe spent a record 257 weeks as the top-ranked doubles player in the world, he was always keen to show that his singles game was just as good.
“I always wanted to prove, because I was better at doubles growing up than I was in singles, that I was a better singles player,” he said. “I proved that for a few years — not too many, but enough that people realized I could play pretty good singles. I always had better success in doubles as a kid and later in my career.”
McEnroe described the current state of American men’s tennis in one word: struggling. He attributed the country’s recent lack of a standout player to an absence of interest in the sport.
“Obviously, America — we’ve got two guys in the top 10, but they’re toward the end of their careers,” he said. “We don’t seem to have a lot of people coming at the moment. We have to do something about that. … We need to figure out a way to get tennis to where people are talking about it again.”
But in spite of America’s struggles, McEnroe was quick to point out that men’s tennis is thriving, citing the rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and the recent rise of Novak Djokovic as factors that have increased the global appeal of the game.
Still, he was surprised by the changes that have occurred in the sport since his success in the ‘80s. Largely because of innovations in racket design, current players approach the net much more rarely. McEnroe was known as a master of short volleys.
“Everyone plays full baseline,” he said. I don’t know if I’m a dinosaur or if it’s going to come around again … but who would have thought everyone would be serving and staying back at Wimbledon? Who knows what’s going to happen in 10 years. They might outlaw these strings. Any number of things could happen.”
Perhaps after the president finishes a budget deal, he will have time to accept the dinosaur’s challenge. And if he loses, he will be the one to use McEnroe’s famous catch phrase: “You cannot be serious!”
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