Q&A With Tennis Legend John McEnroe at Expo 2020 Dubai
DUBAI, 18 February 2022 One of the greatest tennis players of all time, John McEnroe, has been speaking about gender parity and the future of the sport during his visit to Expo 2020 Dubai on Saturday. The winner of 77 singles titles also praised the event ahead of his Men’s Doubles Exhibition Game with fellow former champions Greg Rusedski, Richard Krajicek, and Mark Philippoussis at the Expo Sports Arena.
McEnroe attained the world №1 ranking in both singles and doubles, finishing his career with 77 singles and 78 doubles titles; this remains the highest men’s combined total of the Open Era. He thus remains the only male player to win more than 70 titles in both the men’s singles and the men’s doubles categories. He won seven Grand Slam singles titles (four at the US Open and three at Wimbledon), nine Grand Slam men’s doubles titles (five at Wimbledon and four at the US Open), and one Grand Slam mixed doubles title (at the French Open). His singles match record of 82–3 in 1984 remains the best single season win rate of the Open Era.
McEnroe also excelled at the year-end tournaments, winning eight singles and seven doubles titles. Three of his winning singles year-end championships were at the Masters Grand Prix and five were at the World Championship Tennis (WCT) Finals. Since 2000, there has been only one year-end men’s singles event, the ATP Finals. He was named the ATP Player of the Year and the ITF World Champion three times each: 1981, 1983 and 1984.
McEnroe contributed to five Davis Cup titles for the U.S. and later was team captain. He has stayed active in retirement, often competing in senior events on the ATP Champions Tour. He also works as a television commentator during major tournaments.
What are your first impressions of Expo 2020 Dubai?
Well, you know, overwhelming. I feel like I’m in a small city or something, so it’s incredible. It’s an energy and (there are) lots of things going on, so I don’t know which way to turn. So, it’s pretty cool, I haven’t been in an Expo like this before, so it’s got the juices flowing.
Who will dominate tennis by the end of 2022?
I’m still in the old school like Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal. Obviously, Rafa pulled off an amazing feat and I’m glad Novak’s here playing again. It’s just hopefully things will be straightened out so that he can do his thing and we’ll see. It’s hard to tell. And I also like, you know, Daniil Medvedev, I thought he should have won it. We’ll see how he reacts moving forward and what other guys are going to step up. You know, at that time, these other guys have been winning everything. So, you would think these young guys are getting hungry, they want to win something.
Is there any young player who has caught your eye recently?
Well, I like Félixa lot, the Canadian, Auger-Aliassime, seems the sort of the guy that I think was most likely to win from a bunch of them. I think there’s going to be a handful of guys that are going to do it. But right now, he’s making some incredible progress and showing a lot of people that to me, he’s going to be the guy in a few years.
There’s a lot of talk about pressure in the sport when you were out there playing, how did you cope with it?
I didn’t deal with it too well, sometimes I’d rather show anger than sort of vulnerability or crying, you know. You grow up a certain way as a guy, you’re not supposed to cry. And I think the good news is about what’s happening recently. It’s not that this wasn’t going on forever. Maybe the stakes are higher.
There’s more money, but that people are paying more attention to it and trying to be more understanding of ways that athletes can deal with it and the pressures. I mean, it’s a good pressure. I mean, it’s an incredible way to make a living. So, this would be the thing that psychologists tell athletes. It’s like, look, you know, you’re not out there doing this hard labour. You have some amazing thing that you have the talent to try to make the most of it. This is in my day. It’s just like toughing it out, you know, to deal with it.
If I got hurt, even my mom would say, here’s two aspirin and go out and play again. So, you know, it’s a different time. But at the end of the day, sport is a competition. So, if you want to do it, I mean, on the way it works, if someone wins and someone loses, and that’s the way it is. We often say we athletes, you learn more from losses than you do from winning. Maybe it builds some character in a way and it teaches you certain life lessons that are hard, but hopefully at the end of the day, it makes you a better person.
It’s that will to compete. Rafa exemplifies that in our sport. At the moment, I’ve never seen a guy that tries harder. So, you know, we should study him as an example, as a guy that no matter what’s happening, he’s still giving 100 percent. If the athletes can get to that place where that’s what they’re doing, I think then we’ll be in good shape. That’s if you give a good effort, you do the best you can. That’s what you should be most proud of. Whatever happens will happen.
International Women’s Day is coming up, there’s always been talk about equality in tennis — where does the situation stand currently?
Well, I think tennis is way ahead of the curve. Billie Jean King has been a longtime friend of mine. I met her when I was 15 years old. She was super gung-ho. This was the seventies, and she’s done more for women’s sports than I think any one person in the history of the world, actually.
Obviously, tennis is essentially a sport where there’s been equal pay since the late seventies, and so me coming up at first was like, ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on here?’ Now as time has gone on, as I became a father, I have six kids, four of whom are girls.
I realised that the message that is being sent to young girls is that they have an opportunity maybe the same way as guys, and encouragement is something to look forward to or aspire to. I think it is a great thing, so, you know, I think ultimately it may be not too distant future, tennis will be just one circuit like men’s and women’s, and you won’t have any separate tournaments. And I think that’s the next step, and I believe that’s going to be something to be setting a good example for other sports, so that’s something we should be proud of. You know, when I was first playing, I was like, I’m not so sure about this. And now I feel like it’s good that I feel that I get it. You know, it took me a while, but now I get it.
Do you think the players now would be happy to have more parity?
Well, to me, men and women should be happy for what’s best for the sport. I personally think that’s what’s best for the sport moving forward. That’s up to them to decide, you know, I’m the old guy, I’ve seen a lot and been around a lot, and I think that that’s a good way to go. But we’ll see what happens.
How impressed have you been with Expo 2020 Dubai?
I got to say to Dubai well done. I thought I had energy, but the energy here is just out of this world. Everywhere you turn, it seems like there’s something else to do. I don’t know which way to go, but I’m having fun. So maybe even come to the tennis, see a little bit of tennis, amongst other things, and enjoy.
By Delroy Constantine-Simms and Maureen Drackett-Fuller