BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN MCENROE JUNE 23RD, 2002
DAVID FROST: And now we turn a bit from the subject of football, we’ll come back to it later, but tennis, tennis is on the agenda now in Britain, Wimbledon is with us once again, all the hopefuls are gathering in South London and with rather more conviction than in the past. Many are saying this could be Tim Henman’s year but another man who did lift the crown at Wimbledon, and more, more than once at that, three times, is returning to centre court again this year, ‘tho holding the commentators microphone rather than a tennis racket. I’ll be talking to John McEnroe, superstar, super-commentator after this reminder from BBC Sports Reporter, Ollie Foster, of him as the super performer.
DAVID FROST: That’s indeed true and he’s here now, John welcome.
JOHN MCENROE: David, nice to see you.
DAVID FROST: And we were talking during the papers, as you may have heard, about the title of your autobiography.
JOHN MCENROE: Yes.
DAVID FROST: Which is Serious and You Can’t Be Serious in America, why did, why did they cut off the You Can’t Be?
JOHN MCENROE: All I can say is you cannot be serious that it’s serious. I’m not quite sure but that’s the decision of the publishers, Little Brown made the call.
DAVID FROST: Tell me, a good line call or a bad line call is the question but anyway…
JOHN MCENROE: That’s right.
DAVID FROST: But the interesting thing in the book is where you describe again and again phrases like, my demons, or lurking in mind, the devil lurking in my mind, that, that sort of thing, was that the explanation for those bursts of temper?
JOHN MCENROE: Well I think that’s probably one of a few, where I grew up in the City of New York, it’s got a lot of energy, my parents are Irish-American so there was a bit of yelling going on in my house but it seemed normal. And there was a competitive fire, I’d like to think, in me and at other times as I, hopefully people will read the book, but they’ll see that I take responsibility, I went overboard, I lost it, so that’s, there’s no other explanation or excuse for it, but I think that what people liked at least David, is they liked the fact that they saw someone who was competing hard, that was into it, cared about what he was doing and yes I was on the edge sometimes but I think people, at least I think people prefer that, to see that than not even getting there in the first place.
DAVID FROST: To what extent was it a loss of temper that you couldn’t handle and to what extent was it partially sort of deliberate because you say before the 1981 battle when you beat Bjorg no more misbehaving on my part now. Now you went into that final determined, so was it really under your control?
JOHN MCENROE: Well, well first of all earlier on it was more under my control but when I played Bjorg, I mean it was so obvious that I did anything, ‘cos he did nothing and he really is the only player that I ever played that I didn’t have a problem with on or off the court so that alone, the respect that I had for him and the fact that we were so different personality wise, the way we played, it made it seem unnecessary. I would say later on in my career, after having kids, it became peculiar to me and less pleasant when I was going into some of my outbursts and I did feel more like, I guess like a cigarette smoker, addicted to it, not quite sure or wishing I wasn’t doing it but still doing it.
DAVID FROST: Yes and do you think that you would have done even, your record would be even better if, if you hadn’t had these tantrums or temper…
JOHN MCENROE: Well that’s…
DAVID FROST: Well…people say that there was, there was the French Open Final in ’84 and the Australian Open all of, both of which you could have won but for your temper, do you think that’s true or did your temper help you?
JOHN MCENROE: Well both, I mean I think it helped in some ways and it hurt me in others. My father always said to me the joke is he said to me, listen you don’t need to get upset, you’re better than these players just go out and play, but the way he said it was YOU DON’T NEED TO GET UPSET, YOU’RE BETTER THAN THESE PEOPLE. So I, it was difficult for me and I felt like I’d lose some of that intensity David, if I sort of let go. Now I think it was my mistake, I look at Connors for example, who’s someone who seemed to be able to combine that super intensity along with sort of getting the crowd to eat out of his hands when he needed to, make, do something self-deprecating which I think is why people, hopefully, accept me a little bit more because I think they’ve seen a side of my personality in the commentary booth that, having a little bit of fun, not taking myself too seriously, hoping to just add a little something, after all the tough part’s being out in centre court which these guys are going to start doing tomorrow, that’s the tough part. It’s fine to sort of take a look back and it’s, it’s allowed people to see, see me in a different way.
DAVID FROST: How would you compare the standards of tennis, let’s say in the Hoad Rosewall and Laver era, with the McEnroe Bjorg era and today?
JOHN MCENROE: It’s difficult to compare other than to say that in general I think you’ve seen athletes get bigger and stronger and now you see this equipment which has complicated things, particularly in the men’s game today, there’s so much power in the game that the serve is by far – you’ll see at Wimbledon – the most important weapon and I’d like to see that change. There’s more shot-making, there’s less of an ability before there was more shot-making because I think that guys didn’t hit the ball as hard. I mean you’re talking, you know Rob Laver was my idol, he’s 5’9″, maybe 5’10” on a good day perhaps, I doubt even that much and you’re looking at guys now that are out there, Ivanisevic won it last year the guy’s 6’4″, he’s hitting 130mph serves, it’s just, it’s difficult to get into any sort of rally.
DAVID FROST: Well that’s one of the reasons why women’s tennis is a bit more popular because you do get rallies?
JOHN MCENROE: And don’t serve as big as the men so therefore you still see points and I think people, the great fans over here in Britain, they love to go to Wimbledon and I think that they deserve a little more. I think the players, I put in the book for example that we should go back to wood rackets, probably they laughed at me, I’m a dinosaur, but I think that you see these great players, have even more variety and you see more strategy, there’d be more subtlety. I, I think it’d be great for the game – I don’t it will happen but I think it would be great for the game.
DAVID FROST: And what, and what about this upcoming Wimbledon, I mean starting with the women’s, do you think the Williams sisters are bound to dominate this, this championship and most of tennis for the foreseeable future?
JOHN MCENROE: Yes I do, unless something changes that I can’t see, but Capriati is the contender clearly, she’s had a great run, run and in a comeback that’s been sensational. My personal favourite is Justine Henin because she reminds me, she doesn’t have any muscles which I can relate to but she’s a great tennis player and she hits every shot, she’s fun to watch, she got to the finals here last year. You’ve got injury problems on the women’s side, Hingis is out and Davenport’s not playing, so there’s less for the William sisters to have to deal with. So I, I’d, I’d be surprised if they weren’t in the finals again.
DAVID FROST: And what about Tim Henman, obviously the question is all about, viewers will want to know what do you think his chances, he’s seeded number four so that’s a good start?
JOHN MCENROE: Well I picked Tim to win last year and he’s extremely close in doing that.
DAVID FROST: But for that rain, yes.
JOHN MCENROE: For the rain, he was still a few points away from beating Ivanisevic so that’s awful close, he’s got an excellent draw, he’s got a great chance, David, to get at least to the semi-finals, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get there at least and then you never know. I mean maybe this time, it would be nice, I think it would be a shot in the arm for the sport but I think there’s a few other guys that might have something to say about that.
DAVID FROST: And you, you’ve picked Roger Federer as perhaps the one with the best chance?
JOHN MCENROE: Well Federer to me is the next Sampras, the way he plays and he’s sort of an understated guy but he’s got all the shots, he’s got a dream game, the kind of game that you love to see in a young player, their ability to stay back and hit big shots but also serve and volley and Sampras is obviously gotten mighty tall, it would be very difficult to fill his shoes and you don’t want to count old Pistol Pete out quite yet because he, I think he could still possibly scare a number of people.
DAVID FROST: Well it’s great to have you with us and we look forward to your commentaries in the next two weeks.
JOHN MCENROE: David it’s been nice to sit next to you after all these years.
DAVID FROST: Absolutely, very good fun, John McEnroe ladies and gentlemen. There you are, ladies and gentlemen, there are one or two ladies and gentlemen around, not a whole vast audience but anyway thanks very much to John McEnroe.