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February 1, 2012

John McEnroe

GREG SHARKO:  Good afternoon everyone, welcome to today's conference call with John McEnroe who joins us from New York.
John will be playing an exhibition doubles match on Monday, February 13th, in San Jose with defending SAP Open champ Milos Raonic.  They'll take on Gaël Monfils and Jack Sock.
During John's Hall of Fame career, he ranked the most weeks at No. 1 combined in singles and doubles in the history of the ATP rankings.  He finished No. 1 in singles four times from '81 to '84, and in doubles five times from 1979 to '83.
John won 77 singles titles, including five in the Bay Area, and 78 doubles titles, with the last of his nine coming at the his nine coming at the SAP Open in 2006 with Jonas Bjorkman.
Before we open it up for questions, I would like to introduce tournament director, Bill Rapp.
BILL RAPP:  We're excited about having you back.
JOHN McENROE:  Yeah, thanks for having me.
BILL RAPP:  Well, John, I've got kind of a long question, so bear with me.
We are thrilled to welcome you back to San Jose after a six‑year hiatus.  I must say, in my entire 30‑year career, you were one of the toughest players that I ever signed.
But when you finally arrived here at HP Pavilion in 2006 to play the main draw doubles with Jonas Bjorkman, it was well worth the challenge.
You and Jonas rocked the tennis world by winning the 2006 SAP Open doubles titles right after you had your 47th birthday.  I have to say, for all of us here it was a magical week.
Talk about your week in San Jose and your return to the Bay Area in a couple weeks.
JOHN McENROE:  You know, maybe in a couple more years you can ask me to play the entire doubles tournament, you know, when I hit about 55.
BILL RAPP:  I considered that actually.
JOHN McENROE:  That may be the average age of the doubles players soon.  Some of these guys are getting on in years also, so I won't be quite as out of the mix as I would appear.
I'm looking forward to it.  I have a lot of history obviously there going to school in the Bay Area, playing the San Francisco event, playing your event.  So I've got a lot of friends, and my daughter is out in San Francisco as well.
So this is a win‑win for me.  Also, it's not often I get a chance to get on a court with some of these young guys.  I think very highly of both Jack Sock and Milos Raonic.  And Monfils is one of the most talented guys you're ever going to see.
So just from the standpoint of the exhibition Monday, it's going to be great.  We'll see if I can hang on with these big hitters.  But whenever I get a chance to get out on the court with these young players I really look forward to it.
It's certainly a day when I appreciate doubles and I only have to cover half the court.
GREG SHARKO:  Before we open up for questions, Peter Ledbedev, tournament director in Memphis at the tournament there would like to say a few words about John coming to Memphis.
PETER LEDBEDEV:  Yeah, John, fist of all, we appreciate you coming back.  We're very excited about you coming back.  Been to Memphis a few times between the Davis Cup when you had a great match against Argentina and won that tie.  And in 1980, singles and doubles champion and also runner‑up in '82 singles‑dubs.
Yeah, it's been a while since you've been to Memphis.  It's going to be a nice, intimate atmosphere, and you're going to be playing with Jack on that against James and Sam.
How do you feel kind of playing the elder statesman with the young guy against the middle‑aged guys in Memphis?  Tell us about how that is to play with a guy like that.
JOHN McENROE:  I think Jack's got a great up‑side, so hopefully he'll be able to soak something up.  I get pumped up when I play with the young guys.  They make me feel ‑‑ I mean, they make me feel older but they make me feel younger as well.
I like the intimate setting in Memphis.  It's sort of an old school stadium.  Got some great history, as you said.  I even played some seniors events not that long ago, so it hasn't been that long since I've been in Memphis, but certainly a long time since I was playing the actual tournament there.
But they love their tennis, and hopefully I can show that I can still play out there and put on a good show as well.  So Bill Rapp, I got to thank you personally.  You're always thinking out of the box, so I appreciate the opportunity to get out there and play against these youngsters.
GREG SHARKO:  Questions.

Q.  What are your impressions of Milos as a player, and where do you think his potential can take him?
JOHN McENROE:  I see Bernard Tomic and I see Milos at the moment with the greatest up‑side.  I think Ryan is going to be an excellent player as well, but these guys have that extra gear it appears.  Bernard sort of plays his own game, but Milos, to me, has an incredible chance to do something really big in tennis.
I feel like he's making some great progress.  I know he was curtailed when he got hurt at Wimbledon.  That set him back for quite a while.  I feel like he's just about sort of where he left off when he was really starting to make that breakthrough.
I think he's definitely going to have a chance to win majors if he can continue to add to his game.  Right now, you know, I hadn't seen a lot him.  I watched him some in Australia.  I was down there the first week, and I could see that there is an incredible up‑side.  He's even a better athlete than I thought he was.
Again, I know all these guys play at the baseline, but I would like to see him develop his forecourt game more.  I think he would be much more dangerous.  I think if he's willing and able to do that, I think that the type of addition to his game that would help him win possibly major events.
So he's still going to be tough even if he doesn't do that.  A lot guys out there seem to be content obviously with playing predominantly from the baseline, even the top players.
But in order for him to compete with the top guys, I think he has have to the ability to move forward more often.  I think that would be helpful for him.

Q.  What did you think of the performance of the U.S.  men in the Australian Open?
JOHN McENROE:  Well, obviously that was extremely disappointing.  It wasn't entirely surprising in a way, because Andy ‑‑ James didn't play and Sam is still trying to work his way back.  I think he showed signs of what he at least was before.
And, again, John Isner is a similar type of‑‑ I would make a similar type of assessment of his play as I would with Milos Raonic, in the sense that I find him to be extremely ‑‑ I know these guyshave a ‑‑ he's like a nightmare to play in a way, but he gets, I think, sucked into playing too much from the baseline, and subsequently he gets into some matches like the match with Nalbandian where it takes a lot out of him and doesn't have enough left in the tank to deal with the guys down the road.
So he's become an excellent player, very good player.  I still think he's got potential to be top 10.
I think Ryan played well, but he also had an extremely difficult draw.  He played well.  He showed me why ‑‑ and a lot of others ‑‑ that he's obviously going to me get to at least top 20 in my opinion.
Jack I haven't seen for a while.  I haven't seen Jack play since the Open, so I'm not quite sure where he's at right now.  To see no one in the second week‑‑ and Mardy ‑‑ I mean, Mardy put a lot of effort in to be able to get to that top 10 breakthrough, and it's going to even be more difficult to stay there.
So clearly there is frustration.  We've got some excellent players.  But I mean, I'm going to speak as a fan.  We've sort of been spoiled over the years, and we want to see guys winning and challenging for the majors.  At the moment, that's not there.

Q.  How do you feel about the future of U.S. men's tennis?
JOHN McENROE:  Well, I mean, I'm here at a  tennis academy speaking to you right now, so my goal and hope is to bring the buzz back to American tennis and see American players winning majors.  I don't think there is any reason why we can't do that.
However, if you look at what they're up against, anyone who saw the semis and finals realizes that they're going to have to bring something special to the table.  These guys are sort of raising the bars as we speak.
So it's going to be definitely a challenge, but it doesn't mean ‑‑ I mean, if you sat ten years ago and told me some that some kid from Mallorca and a guy from Switzerland and a Serbian guy who left his country at 12‑‑ although I did hit with Djokovic when he was very young, and anyone could see the guy was going to be a player ‑‑ and Murray from Scotland were going to be the top four players, someone would see if you had a fever or whatever.
So to think that we couldn't get back would be absurd to say that it's not possible that we can get some players.  But we've certainly got to do everything we possibly can and more to try to be able to deal with the talent and the athleticism that you're seeing now in tennis.

Q.  How many exhibitions like this do you play in a year, and why do you like doing these?
JOHN McENROE:  Well, I mean, I love to play, first of all.  I'm at a tennis academy; I like to get out there with young kids.  This is obviously a whole new level.  You're talking about some of the most talented younger players on the tour.  That's fun.  That's like a no‑lose, except if I laid an egg.  I'm obviously not going in there trying to do that.
I don't think you can get the competitive juices out of your blood.  I don't know if I would want to anyway.  But it's certainly still there for me.  At times your eyes are bigger than your stomach, so to speak.  You think you can do more than you really can.
So this is sort of more within my grasp.  I can play one match, go a week, play another one.  I mean, I can play two, three days in a row, and doubles is a lot easier for me to do.  That's why you see guys‑‑ I mean, look at the top doubles players in the world.  They're mid‑to late 30s.  So it's obviously‑‑ in terms coverage covering the court, it's a whole lot easier.
Basically I prefer playing singles just in terms of because I think of the enjoyment I get out of playing past champions and friends is greater than it would be just going out and playing events.
Although I had a great time when I played Bill's event six years ago.  But it wasn't something that I felt like, Look, I want to become a regular on the doubles tour again.
I still feel like I can play doubles now.  I mean, there is as little doubt in my mind now as there was then.  In a way, I feel like I'm playing as well or better, so...
But I like this better in a way because I get guys looking to get their feet wet, get a match under their belt, get used to court for their singles.  They don't have the same pressure, but they're going to go out and show what they got; hopefully and I can do the same.
So it seems like a no‑lose.

Q.  You were talking a few minutes ago about the state of U.S. tennis.  Do you think tennis is as popular in this country as it ever was, if it's waned at all?  Also, does there need to be a Tiger‑like kind of player to get more people interested in the sport again?
JOHN McENROE:  Well, I mean, you asked about three questions there.  The short answer would be‑‑ I mean, maybe I'm biased, but it seemed like a great time that I came into tennis.  Seemed like the interest level and the participation level was the highest it had ever been and has been in the early '80s, late '70s into the early to mid‑'80s.
I feel like in an individual game there was a lot of personalities out there.  I think for a lot of reasons, some which were rule changes and timing and players coming in and out of the game, et cetera, things you can't control along with things you can control, that the game became more sort of one dimensional, similar, and they were trying to almost in a way discourage personality.
I think that hurt the sport.  I think the sport isn't as popular as it was.  I still think it's a great game.  There are a lot of other things out there that people can gravitate towards.  I mean, if you had told me poker would have outrate tennis 25 years ago, I would have laughed at you.
For that matter, golf, bowling, you could go on and on.  I think tennis is way better than my of those things.  Having said that, you have to think outside of the box and go after the fan who has 500 choices on a TV now instead of 10.
There is more sports.  They're coming up with events that didn't exist.  The X‑Games gets great ratings when that comes on.  And these are sports that didn't exist.  We need to constantly be trying more things, in my opinion, to try change up things instead of sort of keeping everything the same, which I think we've got stuck into doing.
And obviously because of the fact that it's an expensive game and it's a difficult game to master, it's made it more difficult to get the best athletes to play the game.  So that's an issue.  You see in other countries Rafael Nadal is an incredible athlete as well as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray from Scotland.
They may be picking‑‑ tennis is a more popular sport in their countries than it is in ours, so we need to be a better job of making it a sexier, more attractive sport to kids that maybe wouldn't normally think about playing it, and then subsequently providing an opportunity to do it.

Q.  Lastly, at your academy you see the potential, you see the young talent that possibility could develop into elite kinds of players?
JOHN McENROE:  I am doing everything I can, because there hasn't really been a player since my brother that's come out of here and made it professionally.  James Blake spent the first four, I think four or five years of his life in Harlem, but moved a couple hours north or so to Connecticut.
There really hasn't been many players.  It's certainly more difficult.  I'm trying to sort of figure out every way I can.  Right now, you're talking about a starting point‑‑ I don't look at guys and say, Oh, yeah, there's tons of Novak Djokovics around.  I wish I could tell you that was the case.
It certainly becomes apparent to me when you see these guys play up close ‑‑ like I sat on the court watching Tomic play Federer, and you come into an academy, that the critical part is to try to get as good an athlete as possible.  That's not easy thing to do for anyone.
There are other sports that are having the same problem.  Less people play baseball than there used to be from this country.  There's more players outside the country.  Hockey used to be all Canadian and a few Americans.  Now it's much more European, at least in the NHL.
So there's certainly a lot of things that need to be done, but this is a long‑term process.

Q.  You have spoken about Pete's great serve.  Could you take a minute and go through the basic strokes, forehand, one‑handed backhand, two‑handed backhand, volley, and moment?
JOHN McENROE:  Who are we talking about?

Q.  About the best strokes.  Few others have encountered more strokes over the last...
JOHN McENROE:  Well, it's hard to say.  You know, now you look at the best forehand.  Is it Nadal?  Djokovic?  You sort of look at the obvious cases.  I think they've taken the shot to a whole new level, Roger, Novak, and Rafa, in different ways.
It's hard to pick one right now.  I think Roger is the most beautiful player I've watched.
You know, Djokovic has lifted his game to a point where I think maybe his return has now maybe surpassed Agassi.  Used to be Connors and Agassi, and I thought, Well, Djokovic blocks the ball back.  Now it's like beyond belief like what he can do with the return.  So they've taken this baseline game to a whole new level.
As far as volleying, I think that would be still a little older school, like an Edberg to some extent, or a Rafter.  Pete all around was lethal in a lot of different ways, but not necessary like‑‑ he certainly had an incredible forehand, but these guys seem to have a little bit more ‑‑ do a little bit more with it.
He was a better volleyer than any of these guys, but I would put Pete as a great volleyer.  Maybe not quite as great ‑‑ I saw Tony Roche play.  I played him.  He had the best backhand volley I ever saw, I think.
It's hard to pick like anyone that has anything better.  Like movement‑wise, these guys, when you saw that final, it's like, Wow, these guys are come covering the court.

Q.  Does Novak move even better than Rafa?
JOHN McENROE:  I think on a hard court it's like he moves slightly better, yeah.  I think on clay Rafa moves better.

Q.  Who is toughest mentally that you've encountered?
JOHN McENROE:  Oh, God that's hard to say.  I can't ‑‑ I still think you got to throw Laver in the mix just because he meant so much to me and millions of other players.  In what he accomplished, doing it twice, you got to think deep down this guy mentally had to be ‑‑ because I was down Australia and I looked at his Grand Slam career record.
I noticed the first three or four years he lost like first or second round in virtually every major.  Then all of a sudden you're like, Wait a second.  Something happened along the line where this guy just brought it to like not even one gear, had to be like a couple gears.
If you're going to pick an old‑time guy‑‑ I didn't see Lew Hoad and couple other guys, butit's hard to ‑‑ and Bjorn to me was like the Nadal of my time.

Q.  Yep.  Tough on clay and...
JOHN McENROE:  Hard to pick one of anything.  I would need a couple days on that one.

Q.  And just to follow‑up, your era just totally transformed tennis with Bjorn and Jimmy, Vitas, so forth, and then Edberg and Pete and Becker and Andre sort of brought a certain level of play and almost a professionalism.  Now we have an incredible Fab Four with Novak, Rafa, Roger, and Andy.  Is this an incredible golden era of tennis, or not so much?
JOHN McENROE:  I think it is.  I think it's an incredible time actually.  I think we better enjoy it while it lasts.  Roger is 30 now, and he's still playing pretty amazingly well.
Murray played the best match I had ever seen him play even though he lost it.
This is the time I think people are realizing.  I saw some in the Wall Street Journal.  I saw people writing about ‑‑ I've had a lot of people come up to me and say, Wow, that's one of the all‑time matches I just saw in terms of five and a half hours, five hours 45 minutes these guys are still running and it looked like the first set.
It felt like it wasn't almost humanly possible what they were doing.  So I think it's really pretty nice.  Somehow we got to figure out a way to take better advantage to that.

Q.  Finally, can you compare that final with your final with Bjorn at Wimbledon and the Federer‑Nadal '08 final?
JOHN McENROE:  Well, I don't know if I can‑‑ I didn't see it start to finish because ‑‑ I won't bore you with the details, but I didn't get up for the 3:00 a.m. start.
Then when I turned it on at 9:00, which is the replay, it was actually the ceremony ‑‑ or 9:15.  So I was like, Holy Moses.  You guys played this long?
So I've been watching it the last few days like bits of it.  To me it sort of has this feel of one of the all‑time great matches.  I'm not necessarily sure I would say ‑‑  like I still think everything about that Federer‑Nadal match was amazing.
It's nice to be part of history.  This one certain is going to go down as one of the greats.  I don't know exactly where it is right now.

Q.  It looks like Novak now has stretched this incredible run into 2012.  You mentioned his return game.  I wondered if you could talk about what makes him so tough as a competitor.
JOHN McENROE:  Well, I mean, there is a lot of reasons.  I mean, before he was somewhat suspect in terms of conditioning and in terms of breathing.  You saw a little evidence of that in this event, yet he sort of found that gear and will and way to figure out how to get through it.
So there is something there that he's become as mentally tough as you possible can be on a tennis court.  Certainly athletically the things he's doing.  He's much more elastic.  He's like Gumby out there.
So I noticed years ago how the flexible he was and how hard he worked on it.  I thought to myself, This is going to pay off.  I didn't realize to what extent and advantage this would be, but it's certainly proven to be.
I think it's something that has to be considered very seriously by other players, because there is lost more balls being hit with an open stance, off the back foot.
And somehow this may be more effective at times than even the traditional style that I was taught.  Because the shots that these guys can come up with and the position and the defense‑to‑offense that these guys can go to is phenomenal.
I think his forehand is one of the biggest shots in the game, and his backhand has become better.  If you notice at the end he doesn't volley a lot, and his serve was a liability for about a year and a half.  It's become solid.  It's not as good as some of other players, but it's better than average‑‑ well better than average.
But his volleying recently looks to me like he's become more ‑‑ even though he doesn't come in much, he seems pretty solid up there.  He doesn't seem like a whole lot of things are going to go wrong.
That's something Nadal was able to do, and that's very important for him to be able to finally end a couple point.  That takes its toll on you.  I don't care who you are.  These guys can't keep doing this for this length of time.  I would think they would be best off ‑‑ like they play some of these rallies, and still looks like there is some times where they waste some opportunities to end points earlier.
That's coming from a guy who liked to come to net.  Like I see times where you got to‑‑ if you see Nadal is hitting a slice backhand, to me that would be like you start moving forward when he's off the court.
Those guys sort of get into these war of wills where they're just going to sort of break each other until one of them literally falls over.

Q.  Following up, you talk about how physical the game has become, how punishing.  How difficult will it be for him to sustain this kind of level?
JOHN McENROE:  Well, first of all, he's going to have to be careful with his schedule.  He can sustain it.  He's going to lose some matches because a lot of them are two‑out‑of‑three and he's going to have more difficulty getting up for every one of them.
It started happening with Roger.  He wasn't able to sustain this ‑‑ I mean, he did it for an incredible amount of time where he would even play great in smaller events.  But he's going to have to be careful about his scheduling.
That's part of why you see guys bailing on Davis Cup.  Again, there is an example of something that's got to be changed; they never change it.
But Nadal is not playing.  Djokovic is not playing.  Roger is I think playing because he has to because he won't get in the Olympics.  Maybe I'm wrong there, but that seems to be the reason, because he hadn't played much in the past five years.
So there are things that they have to watch out for.  That's whythey ‑‑ I mean, that's why they have to be well counseled and have to not always, say, go after the money.
I'm sure that every ATP tournament would love to have to these guys.  Unfortunately, they can't keep up that type of pace.

Q.  John, you mentioned the intimate setting in Memphis.  How unique is that, and what do you remember of it?  What's is its place on the tour, do you think?
JOHN McENROE:  Well that's difficult to say.  It's like an old school auditorium.  Everything is very close.  It's not a real stadium.  It's more like a club that I'm at almost.
So it's sort of like a club that built a bigger stadium to house an event.  At the time that probably seemed pretty big, and now it seems outdated and miniscule.
But at the same time, people love tennis in Memphis.  There is something about it that's nice when you're real close to peoplewhere you literally can ‑‑ I mean, as long as they're not hurling insults at youlike I would get ‑‑ not, of course, from the people of Memphis.  Of course not.
But they can really hear what I'm saying or what players are saying, and it's sort of nice to have that sometimes, you know, for some of the players when they're playing with some of these huge courts.
I'm sure like part of why‑‑ I think Roddick's only tournament win was there last year.  I bet you some of it had to do with he sort of got a buzz and a rush from having the crowd close and them appreciating that he's playing there.
It can be beneficial to you.  I don't know what will be down the road.  Obviously things are changing, and you don't know if you can sustain that type of event or what it could mean in terms of how much it costs to put on an event.
I'm not familiar with those type of things.  You hate to see events go when people care about them, but it's going to be interesting to predict ‑‑ or hard to predict it.  Interesting to see what happens in the next five, ten years.

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