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January 12, 2006

John McEnroe

GREG SHARKO: Thanks for joining in for today's call with John McEnroe. John will be playing in the SAP Open with veteran Swede Jonas Bourque, who owns 43 career doubles titles, including eight Grand Slam doubles titles. This will be the first time that John and Jonas will play together. John owns 77 singles titles and 77 doubles titles in his career, an ATP record. He'll be looking to win his 14th career title in the Bay Area. He already owns five singles and eight doubles titles. This will also be the first time that John plays in an ATP tournament since 1994 in Rotterdam, where he played with Boris Becker, getting to the semifinals. At this time I'll introduce tournament director Bill Rapp to make a few comments.

BILL RAPP: John, thanks again for taking time out of your day to spend some time with us. To all the media, thank you for joining us on the call. John, I'll get started with the first question. I remember you and I met face to face at Wimbledon. I realized you were pretty enthusiastic about this whole thing. We were able to get Bjorkman on board. Now that it's been -- I think last time you were in San Francisco, 1991, you played doubles with Andre Agassi, maybe comment about that and comment about maybe how this might be a little bit different.

JOHN McENROE: Well, obviously circumstances are completely different. That was at a time when I just had three kids and was sort of winding down on the actual playing on the tour. Playing with Andre was not something that was done in terms of trying to necessarily go and win the tournament, it was more just because of the respect I have for Andre and wanting to play with him. Motives were a little bit different. If it worked out with the singles, then it would be good to play the tournament in doubles. If you could win it, all the better. It was more I think hopefully just out of mutual respect. This is a different set of circumstances for me in a lot of ways because doubles to me is at sort of a critical stage. If by me playing this tournament furthers debate on something that should be done or what could or will be done about doubles, I'd like to hopefully be part of that, and sort of either resurrecting it to some degree, forcing people to take a closer look at it, or making a decision about it. Just as I've sort of continued to try to express my views about Davis Cup. It's something else that has been quite frustrating watching from a distance, not really seeing any change. I sort of stayed out of this doubles debate for quite a while, watched sort of discouragingly as fewer and fewer of the top players played, less and less attention seemed to be paid to it, and wondering what, if any, future there is in it. Given the fact that for me doubles was an important part of my career and something that I felt helped my singles, I'm hoping that not only will I be able to have some fun doing it obviously and play well, I mean, I don't want to go out there and not play well, but more importantly in the longer term it's to me about trying to sort of be part of some type of solution.

BILL RAPP: Thanks, John.

GREG SHARKO: We'll open it up to questions from the media.

Q. John, where would you say your game is right now?

JOHN McENROE: Well, compared to when I was the No. 1 player in the world?

Q. Obviously not compared to that, but you're up in years, and where do you think it is at this point?

JOHN McENROE: Well I'm not sure what you mean. Compared to when I was at my peak, I'm probably 60, 70%. I think given my age and the amount of time and effort I've put into it, I think I'm playing well enough to win the tournament. I could lose first round or win the tournament. I don't know what's going to end up happening. We've got a couple things working against us. One is that Jonas is going to be playing Davis Cup down in Argentina on clay, as an example. He's not even going to get there, I'm presuming, till at least Tuesday. It's not as if there's going to be a lot of time for us to analyze what we should be doing together. We're going to sort of have to rely on just the fact that we both know how to play. I haven't played in a long time obviously. I haven't played an ATP tournament, as Greg mentioned, I played one in '94, I didn't play any in '93. I played a total of one doubles event on the ATP Tour since the fall of '92 or the end of '92. But I don't think -- I played quite a bit last year. I enjoy playing on the Champions Tour. I find the competition certainly stiff enough to keep my game sharp. But obviously doubles is different than singles in certain ways. I will certainly in the next month make an effort to try to get myself ready for the angles and the quicker play that is associated with doubles, more net play, shorter points, covering half the court, the obvious things. To be honest, I took some time off at the end of the year and just am working my way back into playing now because I needed to get away from this. I've been playing so much the last six or eight months.

Q. Do you plan to play ATP events after this one?

JOHN McENROE: I plan to play the champions events. I have what appears to be a pretty full schedule. This is something that is available to me in the future. I don't know. I don't know what's going to happen. I mean, I won't be turning around and playing events soon after. I don't see that happening. But I see the potential to play some. At the moment my schedule is quite filled with playing on the Champions Tour.

Q. Are you eager to kind of see how this new scoring system for doubles that's being adopted will work and whether that will make some of the other singles players who don't traditionally play doubles think twice and maybe start doing that?

JOHN McENROE: Yes and no. Yes and no. I don't think it's going to change things, to be honest, with the singles players. I guess I'm eager and hopeful that perhaps it could or it will make the doubles more exciting. To be perfectly honest, part of me is disappointed because that's what I do on the Champions Tour now. I would sort of prefer to play the full three sets because I haven't done that. I'm actually sort of disappointed that we're not playing a full two-out-of-three sets. If I'm going to go there and just play doubles, I'm only covering half the court, to me it's somewhat disappointing that we're not playing the way I used to play. As I said, if it does turn out, which I don't think it will, this change is going to make it more exciting, then I would support a change like that. I just don't think that this is the answer. This is like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound to play a third-set tiebreaker. I just don't think that's the answer. But I do know in the Champions Tour that we play, it does allow for certain scheduling situations. It makes life a little bit easier for the tournament director, some of the TV people, knowing that a third set is going to take 10 minutes as opposed to anywhere from 20 to an hour. It does sort of tie some people in to certain times they wouldn't know otherwise.

Q. You said you plan on getting prepared in the next month. What are your specific plans? Do you want to play with a few people?

JOHN McENROE: Specifically I don't have specific plans. I'm just going to continue to train, which is what I do anyway, try to keep myself in shape. As I get closer to the tournament, I'm going to focus more on playing doubles points or doubles play, get a couple guys that I work out with here. Obviously, most players that play on the tour are not going to be here the next three or four weeks. But I don't need that anyway. Ideally the better practice you get, the better it is. I'll make do with what's available. It's still four and a half -- let's see. Today is Thursday, so we're talking four or five weeks. I mean, I'm not concerned. To be honest, I've been doing this long enough to know when to start to step it up. It's just a matter of getting -- it's more a mind thing than having to practice specifics in doubles, although I will do that. It's more like a mental thing to just sort of prepare for playing doubles, which I just haven't done. Just the fact that you're not hitting as many shots, you've got to be ready for the few that are hit your way.

Q. You've been working with a trainer Gary Kitchell. Do you believe as if your fitness is pretty high up there?

JOHN McENROE: I think I'm about as fit as I've been the last 10 years. I worked with a trainer here, Pat Minoki (phonetic), a physical fitness trainer. Gary is also someone who has traveled with me some in the last six or nine months who has worked with some tennis players, is also like a physio more than, say, a trainer. He does some training stuff. We'll go out there and try to keep fit. As far as my fitness level, for playing a couple sets of doubles, this isn't about fitness. This is going to be about -- you know, luck is going to have something to do with it, mentally sort of how I handle it, how Jonas handles it, how my opponents handle it. Everyone is going to come into this with a different level of pressure, feeling they have to prove themselves in different ways. From that standpoint, the way I see it, it's more mental than anything else. I could see myself doing doubles in five years. I hardly feel like that's a big issue.

Q. The Australian Open, do you see anyone being able to really challenge Federer in the tournament?

JOHN McENROE: Well, not if he's playing well. But I'm not sure exactly where he's at right now. I know he struggled with that injury he had at The Masters. That cost him when he lost to Nalbandian. I thought it was a great effort to get as far as he did. Nalbandian won that match or he would have tied me for the best overall year percentage, so maybe that will give him something -- if he's looking for something to spur him on. Anyone that knows or covers tennis knows how I feel about him. There's no doubt that if he plays up to the capability or even close to the capability that he's got, he's going to win it.

Q. I've talked to some golfers who as they get up in years and can no longer play to the level they used to play, some find they continue to enjoy the sport, and some find it frustrating when they can't play to the level they played before. Where do you fall in that spectrum?

JOHN McENROE: I fall in both. I enjoy it more in a way, but it's also frustrating because I can't do the things I used to do, one of which is the movement and the quickness I had at net. That is something that -- I don't think it's gone for like doubles. It's gone for singles. I don't think it's necessarily gone for doubles, but that remains to be seen. I don't know the answer to that myself. And I'm not playing Roger Federer. I'm playing doubles, guys. That's a different level all together. We're talking about apples and oranges. I don't necessarily need to be able to do what I had to, although it would be nice. Some of it's going to be how the body's feeling. There's a lot of things that go into it. It just depending. Obviously as you get older, your body doesn't recover as fast. There's all types of things that can happen. I'll prepare hopefully that I'll feel the best that I can feel. Jonas, he's got a lot of experience. I'm hopeful that he plays well because I'd like to play with someone who helps me out instead of the other way around. I'm used to being in the situation where I've been sort of the guy that's there for my partner. It would be nice if I could rely on someone to sort of step it up for me. I wouldn't have to do as much. Ideally that would be nice. I've never been in that situation really where I've felt like I could just count on someone to just pull through for me. Having said that, I haven't played in a long time. I'm sure if Federer said, "Let's go play doubles," I'd feel somewhat confident he could cover for me.

Q. Do you agree with the doubles lawsuit, that it was needed? How do you feel about some of the other changes brought forth?

JOHN McENROE: Let me preface it by saying I haven't read the specifics of the lawsuit. Just having said that, my answer would be, no, I disagree with it. I think it's a big mistake to file a suit against basically other players, your own union. I mean, I know that the ATP -- I've had a lot of disappointment with the way they've handled the sport over the years with the players. I just think that they should have gone to the top players, to be perfectly honest, sort of got a consensus of how they felt, seeing if there was any way to do this without filing a lawsuit. I don't know the specifics of the lawsuit. So beyond that my gut feeling is that that was a big mistake.

Q. Some of the changes that have come since, doubles commissioner, I would imagine you probably think that is good?

JOHN McENROE: Did you say a doubles commissioner?

Q. Yes, that's what they're talking about.

JOHN McENROE: How about a tennis commissioner? Now all of a sudden they're going to have a doubles commissioner.

Q. I think that's the title.

JOHN McENROE: I would seriously doubt that. I don't know. I just think, as I said -- I don't know the specifics. My gut feeling is it's a big mistake. If I was a top player, and the doubles players pulled a stunt like that, they wouldn't want to be around if I -- me and some of the other top players weren't in the right mood. I mean, I think they're asking for trouble personally. I can see where they could feel marginalized because they were going to change the scoring system, change some of the rules. But they're doing that for a reason. You know, doubles is like the Davis Cup in a sense. I think they're on life support right now. There's a bit of desperation here from all sides. I'm hopeful something positive will come out of this. I like the Bryan brothers. They seem like good guys. You don't want to see something like go down the tubes. Doubles meant a lot to me. I enjoyed playing as a team, playing with someone else, what that meant, it can be an important point for Davis Cup. You have your chance to shine that day. There's only doubles. It seems like such a shame where it is at right now. I feel the same way about Davis Cup. I'm not pretending to be the first guy to say this. Ever since I started playing Davis Cup, which has meant a great deal to me, it was obvious they needed to change the schedule, they needed to do something different, whether it was along the lines of the Ryder Cup, every other year, not doing it during the Olympics, all these things being talked about ad nauseam, and nothing changes. It's highly frustrating from -- I mean, from some level from afar, but someone who is an insider. I've been doing this a long time. I was one of the last top guys to play singles and doubles, and to have success at both. To watch this take place, it's really disappointing. Again, if nothing else, I mean, I think how I do -- listen, I'm not going to go there to lose. My plan is to win the tournament. The bigger picture is to me more important. Whether or not I win San Jose is not going to change the sport. Whether doubles is even being played in five years is more of an issue at this point. I've had enough success. I still get out there and give it a hundred percent when I play on the Champions Tour. I still compete hard. I'm going to go out there and compete. I know I can still compete. A hundred percent of me believes I can still compete against the people playing out there on the doubles court. Can I play best-of-five sets? No. That's why I don't entertain those thoughts. I have respect for the difficulty of what it takes for players out there to get their opportunity to play a singles event and on the tour. There's no reason for me to take a wildcard in the singles even though I think I can play for a couple sets, and I think I can hit a pretty good ball. But this is different. This is different because I think the doubles in itself is in danger of being terminated. I think this is a critical next couple years.

Q. Why did you pick this tournament in San Jose to launch this comeback/doubles crusade? Is there a reason? It fits into your schedule, your relationship with Bill Rapp and Barry?

JOHN McENROE: It's a combination of sort of what you mentioned. One, I had a lot of success. Two, it was a short period of time, but I like the area. I went to Stanford. In terms of my schedule, it fit in nicely. My first event is in March on the Champions Tour. Bill has been talking to Gary Swain my agent for a couple years about trying to do something like this. I appreciate and respect Bill's efforts, making me feel like I'd be a positive addition to the sort. I'm not trying to make it bigger than it is. I'm not sure I would use the word "crusade." I would use hopefully "furthering this debate." Am I launching a comeback? I don't look at it as launching a comeback. I don't look at it as I'm going to turn into Martina and start playing 15 doubles tournaments. I'm not going to say I'm not going to play another tournament. Would I like to go play the French Open doubles because I only played it once in my career? Sometimes I'm tempted to do that. But I also have a situation where I work television, and I don't work till the first weekend. Would I want to get there and be away from my kids? One of my sons is graduating high school this year. I'm not going to do certain things that are just selfish. I've already done that for a long time. I'm trying to fit things that I could enjoy doing and hopefully see some friends. Some of the things hopefully raise the awareness of what's going on, win and have some fun. If I won San Jose, it's not like I'm going to turn around and go, all of a sudden I'm going to go play Palm Springs. I'm already in a number of tournaments. I'm playing some of Jim Courier's events that he's putting together on the Champions Tour. I'm still going to play in Europe. I've still got the commentary. My plate is pretty full already. Even if I wanted to, I just don't think it's -- it's too difficult for me to play doubles. Mark Knowles is a friend of mine. He's an excellent doubles player. He asked me to play at Wimbledon last year. I thought that was a nice thing. The last time I played Wimbledon, I won it. I'm not sure the answer is to go play Wimbledon. Let's say I got to the semis, that's not winning it. I feel pretty lucky that I have this -- that I've been able to sort of go and do the commentary, that I'm able to be there for a couple weeks, and I don't feel the same degree of pressure that I put on myself for having to perform. It's trying to perform in a different way. But the bottom line is that when you're doing commentary, the most important and critical thing is if two guys are out there like Agassi was playing against Federer, Agassi/Blake in The Open last year, you sort of learn as the commentator it's better to stay out of the way. That's what it's all about. You're at best icing on the cake. I'm not the main event either way. I can sort of enjoy it more easily than when you're playing.

Q. Martina was vocal about the demise of doubles at the US Open. What have your conversations with her been like?

JOHN McENROE: I can't say that I've had extended conversations with her. I can see where her options have been limited. She's got a lot of pride. She's one of the greatest athletes that our sport has ever had. You can't blame her. What other options is she going to turn to? Because of her outspokenness, that may have limited her options in certain ways. It doesn't surprise me that she can play well in the doubles. I mean, this is someone who is a great doubles player. People are like, "Oh, my God, how does she?" I'm amazed she's able to do it as much as she does without getting frustrated. She's winning like a tournament here, a tournament there. She's loosing a lot more tournaments than she's winning. I respect her love of competition, that she's still willing to go out there for 15 tournaments and win two of them or three of them. That's not easy. And you're playing some 16-year-old.

Q. Are Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt essentially playing for second place at the Australian Open?

JOHN McENROE: The beauty about sports is that you never can say that with certainty. You can say that before the event. You can say on paper, yeah, they're playing for second place. But the truth is that strange things happen. Roger hurt his ankle in practicing after The Open, then subsequently -- maybe it was wherever he was, Bangkok, something, he didn't play for six, seven weeks, then he lost to Nalbandian 7-6 in the fifth. You don't know what's going to happen. If I were those guys, I wouldn't disagree with that assessment simply because it would take some pressure off each other. They're already feeling a lot of pressure as it is. They don't want to put more pressure on themselves. If anything, let Federer have the pressure because everyone's expecting him to win everything. That actually should help them, take a little bit off themselves. If I were them, I'd allow that type of talk. Roddick is already feeling the heat because he took a step back this past year, he didn't do as well as he was expected to or wanted to. Lleyton, he's been out for a while. He hasn't played much. He's not sure of himself. He lost early in a couple of events. On paper, and I haven't seen where Nalbandian is, but Nalbandian's playing right now, I don't know if the draw has been made, but Nalbandian has more confidence than I'm guessing Hewitt or Roddick at this point.

Q. Do you see any of the other American guys outside of Andy and Andre being in the top 10 at the end of the year? Is it inconceivable that Blake could challenge for a Grand Slam title?

JOHN McENROE: I wouldn't use the word "inconceivable." I don't see -- I think James, it was great to see him make that run. I think he's someone who has proven with his athletic ability. I think he believes in himself more. His story has allowed him to play with more of a sense of calm. He's very dangerous. It's difficult to say he could go all the way and win something. I could see him challenge, sort -- I can sort of see him around, say, 10. I'm not sure I could see him -- that he's got the consistency to go all the way. He had Andre beat. He was dominating Andre, destroying him, playing unbelievably well. I would have thought that if he had won that match in three sets, like it looked like he was going to, or even when he served for the match in the fifth set, the likelihood is, the way he was playing, it looked like he had a good chance to beat Ginepri in the semis. That would have put him in the finals. I wouldn't have expected him to beat Federer, but that puts you in the final of a Grand Slam. I don't know what his ranking is right now. I'm guessing it's somewhere between 15 and 20. Because he didn't have many results for the first six months of the year, he has a good chance of being in the top 10 if he performs reasonably well in the next six months.

Q. Robby Ginepri and Taylor?

JOHN McENROE: Taylor has proven to be sort of up and down, sort of a bit of an enigma. He's got a lot of talent. He's dangerous. He's not a guy that people want to play on a good day. I don't see the consistency for him to break through and win a big one. Ginepri, I see he's a steadier performer now, but I see him as a legit top 20 player. You know, the thing that people forget is that when you sort of make this run and you sort of get yourself either the first time or the second time when you get yourself back in the thick of things, you become a bigger win for people, so people try harder against you. People are going to go after you a little bit more. It's almost as difficult to just stay where you are. You've got to make sure you've got to work even harder because you have a target on your back now. It happens to a lot of guys. You got to be careful. It will be interesting to see what happens with these guys. Hopefully they'll rise to the occasion and continue to improve. It's not going to be easy because people are going to be going after them.

Q. We're on the eve of the Australian Open. The four slams are the big marquee events. Could you comment what do you like the very best about each of the slams and what do you like the very least?

JOHN McENROE: Well, I think the scheduling of the Australian Open is really weak ultimately. Some people don't mind it. I think training over Christmas and New Year's is something -- I mean, I just think this is another thing that is another important issue that's sort of been overlooked for many years. I don't know why. I know there was an opportunity either next year or the year after with the TV contract coming up to move the Australian Open. I know it's not a simple one, two, three to do something like that. But it was doable, I believe. I know that maybe January for some Australian kids is better than February or March, but it's all summer what I understand and they're off school and stuff. I think that's disappointing to me to see that hasn't changed.

Q. Best side of the Australian?

JOHN McENROE: The best part about it is the fact that they were the first people to put the roof over the top, to allow themselves to have the luxury of having matches played now on two courts. I think that's a great advantage to have. I think that they've done a great job improving their event. Until the mid '80s, I was offered guarantees to go to Australia. It wasn't in the same league. They've worked extremely hard to try to put themselves back up there. They've done a good job with that. To be honest, all the tournaments, the other tournaments besides the Grand Slams, have to take a page out of their books, really try to do more and more, which is easier said than done when you're just renting a stadium for a week. But if you look at all the majors, the French, Wimbledon and the US, they've all made significant improvements, and I think good ones. They've made the locker room areas, the areas for the spectators, everyone has improved them in different ways. I think the most disappointing thing for me, even though I must say I have to commend Arlen Kantarian, I didn't think I'd see a day where there would be virtually filled up on some occasion Arthur Ashe Stadium. It seems like it's too big a stadium for tennis. But yet there were a couple days, like when Andre played, obviously he's a huge name, James, it seemed like it was packed, even a couple of days where you wouldn't have expected it.

Q. The worst part of the US Open and then to the French?

JOHN McENROE: I don't really have a worst part.

Q. The traffic?

JOHN McENROE: I live here. "Noise" is my middle name. I would say there's nothing that you can say about these events. I mean, sometimes when I played at Wimbledon, the press is a little bit difficult. That wasn't the most fun. Some of that it was self-induced. The French, they have their own way of approaching things, they have their own history. To say negative things about these tournaments at this point -- if you're saying negative things about our Grand Slams, we're in real trouble.

GREG SHARKO: Thanks, everyone, for joining us this afternoon. John, thanks again for your time.

End of FastScriptsâ?¦.

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