McEnroe Takes Center Court
By Tennis Week
John McEnroe has faced some of the greatest players in history and places his former Davis Cup teammates — Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi — along with his idol, Rod Laver, his rival, Bjorn Borg, and top-ranked Roger Federer as the top five players he's ever seen. McEnroe reveals the moment 14-time Grand Slam champion embraced him and expressed his love for the mercurial McEnroe on court as one of his greatest victories of his career.
Twenty-two years after he won his last Wimbledon championship, McEnroe takes Center Court again in a revealing one-hour episode of The Tennis Channel's signature series, "Center Court with Chris Myers". The episode debuts on Monday, June 19 at 7 p.m. Eastern time and will re-air several times throughout June.
The hour-long episode marks just the second time in the 66-episode run that Center Court has been expanded to 60 minutes. The only other time was in 2004 for Pete Sampras.
Here are a few of McEnroe’s insights from the interview:
On the current state of professional tennis: "I think on the upswing, particularly in the men's side. The women have more issues than the men right now, which is a change from what it was maybe a few years ago. I think you're seeing signs of allowing the players to be more themselves and to encourage actually, God forbid, personality on the court. Which I think was discouraged because of guys like myself and Connors and Nastase. I like to say that, the people that ran the sport were sort of like a Communist state. And so I think we found out in the world that Communism's not doing real well."
On his image: "I used to get fined if I cursed at the umpire. Now I get fined if I don't."
On Bjorn Borg's abrupt retirement: "Vitas (Gerulaitis) and I thought he was joking. We thought, 'Look you just need some time off', and the sad part is perhaps had it been handled better by the ATP, which supposedly was a union that was trying to help the players, instead of pressuring Borg into signing a commitment form that he'd have to play the next year, and allowing him the time to sort of rethink where he was, cause he was only 25 at the time. But basically they said 'If you don't sign this commitment form you cannot play at all the entire year, if you do you have to play qualifying.' It was like a huge black eye for our sport and it was a bummer for me because I felt like he was bringing out the best in me."
On the top five players he's seen (in no particular order): "Sampras, Laver, Agassi, Borg, Federer and I'd hope that someone would throw my name somewhere distantly around."
On his classic 1980 Wimbledon final vs Borg: "By the time I got to Borg I was like I can sort of relax a little and do my thing. But the problem was is that I played a lot of tennis going into that and he had played Brian Gottfried in the semis, on a Friday and gotten the match in, then it rained. So, I didn't get to play Friday and on Saturday I played Connors, which was, with all due respect to Brian, was a tougher match. After that match I had to play a doubles match. Nonetheless I felt like I was ready to beat him, I got off to a great start, beat him 6-1, was a couple of points from winning the second set and when he clawed his way back in. He's a great champion, one of the greatest players of all time. If you ask me to name one match that I want to be most associated with it's that match. I came out of that match with the fans with more respect, the players with more respect. I got hungrier, which I think helped me win it next year, and I think it's a great lesson for kids. I know it's a cliché but that there wasn't a loser that particular day, I think it's true because I gave it my best and it brought me to a higher level without a doubt."
On his favorite wins: "Connors in '84 at Wimbledon, I felt like it all came together, I mean he didn't play his best, but I felt like that year and particularly that match it all came together. In '92 a very emotional time for me at Davis Cup final when we played Switzerland, (I was) in the process of going through my separation and subsequent divorce from my first wife, very difficult emotionally for me to even be there, but probably to me is the greatest team ever assembled: Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and myself. Pete and I played doubles, and we were down two sets to love, and I try to rally Pete to get him going so something good could happen. And it did, and we turned it around and ended up winning in five sets. Pete he may not admit this, but he hugged me and he told me he loved me."
On his current physical condition and the state of his game: "I feel like for 60 to 90 minutes I can scare some people still, and I feel good about it in a way. Do I think on a given day I could beat, the best woman in the world? Yes I do. Do I think on a given day that I could beat some guys on the right surface under the right conditions for a set or two? I think I've shown that when I've played some (World) Team Tennis and played matches."
On serving as tennis commissioner? "Oh, I'd love to do that, I mean it's one of the things I put in my book that this sport needs a commissioner and in parenthesis, I'm available, you know, I'm not holding my breath because I think that in times they need a more of a political type person who says the right thing, a yes man or something to, to the powers that be, but I think it's absolutely imperative and I think it'd be great. The problem is, that you know tell the U.S. Open that there's going to be someone above them telling them what to do, it's not going to happen or at Wimbledon or the French Open, those tournaments are bigger then they've ever been."