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August 13, 2007

John McEnroe


THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody for attending. John McEnroe needs no explanation. He'll be participating tonight in the Rogers Cup Tennis Legends event presented by Acura.
We'll open the floor for questions. If there is time remaining in his time here, then we'll have a brief scrum with the backdrop, but for now we'd like to open the floor to questions.

Q. John, is there any drug testing in exhibition matches?
JOHN McENROE: What's that?

Q. Any dope testing for that Advil you're taking in the exhibition matches?
JOHN McENROE: Well, if you want to. If that makes you feel more secure if I play well, I'm open to it. I think, you know, all these things are legal.

Q. You're playing with Anna tonight, and Anna's coach way back said when he was talking about her and describing her, said that she's a shot maker and she does amazing shots, volleys from all angles, and that the only person he can compare her to was you.
JOHN McENROE: We do look sort of alike, yeah (laughing).

Q. How do you feel playing with her tonight? Have you been watching her before when she played her game, can you say that you play alike at all, or how do you feel like that?
JOHN McENROE: I don't see a lot of similarities other than our ass and our -- no, I'm kidding (smiling). We play some of these exhibitions with Jim, so I played with her a few times. And she always played better doubles so she was more comfortable at net. So that part I can relate to because I would probably fall into that same category. But I think after that our similarities end (smiling).

Q. I'd like to ask you a question about the electronic, the Hawk-Eye system, and what you think about that? What that would have been like to play with that back in your day?
JOHN McENROE: I think I would have won more tournaments. But maybe I wouldn't have had people here now, you know, at this age, you know, wanting to hear what I had to say on any level. So there's a good and bad to it.

Q. Do you like the concept of it?
JOHN McENROE: I like it because I think that it is a case where the umpire can feel secure that if he does make a mistake, that it can be overturned and that a match might not be -- the outcome of a match may not be determined on a bad call. And I think even umpires don't want to be the reason why a match was swayed one way -- except when I play, then they wanted to screw me (smiling). But the other people that I've watched them umpire against, you would think that they were not looking to sort of favor one person or the other. So this allows a little security.
I think they'd do a better job, because there would be less pressure. Because the player can go challenge the call. It does eliminate the sort of give and take, if you want to call it that, between the umpire and a player. So you're looking at, like a Tyrannosaurus Rex of tennis. A dinosaur, you know, guy played with a wood racquet, had a give-and-take with an empire, I don't think you're going to see that much anymore. So you can feel whatever way you want to, but that's, I'm the last of a dying breed.

Q. Congratulations on winning a new generation of tennis fans by your excellent commentary on all the networks. With that in mind, I want to ask you two things about the US Open coming up. Number one, do you see Djokovic as?
JOHN McENROE: You mean Djokovic?

Q. Djokovic.

Q. And secondly, what is your estimation about how good Frank Dancevic could be for Canada?
JOHN McENROE: I'll start with the first question. First part. I've been -- I'm not the first guy by any means that's said this guy's going to be a great player. He already is a great player. He proved that last week. He's 3 in the world, the guy got to the semis at the French and Wimbledon. And he's a guy you could tell a while ago.
This wasn't something that happened yesterday. This guy's been around a couple of years and people inside tennis, including myself, said this guy -- I said, Okay, this guy's going to be 3 in the world by the Open. And I think he beat me by a little bit, because I think he was 3 after Wimbledon.
He's got guys, obviously, that are pretty firmly entrenched in 1 and 2, and arguably the greatest player that ever lived at 1. And certainly one of the greatest players that ever lived on clay already, but not as comfortable on hard courts in Nadal.
Djokovic arguably, to me is better on hard courts than Nadal is, right now at this point. He's lifted his game. Not on the other surfaces, I would say, yet. But that's quite a big statement to be able to feel that he's come this far.
Now, all of a sudden, people are going to be going after him because he's now established himself as the No. 3 player in the world and a guy who beat Roddick, Nadal and Federer, that's an unbelievable effort.
I think he's going to win majors. I don't know exactly when that's going to happen, but I think he proved that's not inconceivable. He could do it this year. But that would be quite something amazing. As far as the second part, I'm not -- I only saw, is it Dancevic? I'm not sure how you pronounce his name?

Q. He doesn't like to be called with the Dance, I believe it's a hard Dancevic?
JOHN McENROE: The only time I saw him was when I saw him play over in Indianapolis. I heard of his name and saw his name in the draws a little bit. Then I watched him play a couple of matches in Indianapolis, and I think he's got some real talent.
He's a big guy, looks pretty fit. He's got some game, but he's got to tighten up. These guys are going to, you know, all of a sudden he's got to the finals in Indianapolis and things are starting to happen a little bit. So he's going to have to keep improving to stay at the level he's at. But I think he should be proud of what he's accomplished very recently.
You know, his backhand looked a little awkward, but he made some things happen with it on some big points. I remember Roddick, and he had a lot of tough matches. So that tells me something that he knows how to sort of work his way through a match which is quite good.
We'll see what happens when he's played a lot of matches, and when there's higher expectations. So I hope he does well. I think it would be good.

Q. You were talking about the US Open, do you think it's the hardest Grand Slam to win, and if so, why?
JOHN McENROE: Well, the French -- you say arguably the most physical. You're out there on clay and a lot of physical points. Wimbledon, mentally, you could say is the toughest, because there is so much frustration, you're coming on and off the court, things happen fast. The Open sort of combines that, so, you know, all in all, especially if he gets some really hot conditions it can be unbelievably tough.
You have to deal with day and night matches, which you don't at the French and Wimbledon. So I would say that you could definitely make an argument it's the toughest one.
Plus you've played a pretty long season, you're into the ninth month of the year there. In this case, it's going to be -- the outcome will help determine. Roger, obviously, looks to be No. 1 again, even if he didn't win it. But it's still sort of up in the air a bit.
If Nadal won it, say, for example, he came very close to beating him at Wimbledon, and beat him at the French. If he had won the Open and say won the Masters you could make an argument, believe it or not even as unbelievable as Roger has played over the course of the last three, four years, Nadal if he could make that move on hard courts and have some wins over say Djokovic and Federer, so that makes it exciting.
But physically it takes its toll, obviously, the hard courts. The body takes more of a pounding. And if it gets hot, it can be rough.

Q. A lot has been made this week of some of the high-profile players withdrawing from this tournament in the last minute. It's not the first time it's happened here in Toronto. What is your take on that situation?
JOHN McENROE: Well, it's an epidemic in the women's game. There's no doubt. The men aren't as bad, but it certainly has been an issue. The way the game is set up, it's -- I don't say it's good, because it isn't, and it's not one person's fault. It's not just the players, so it's not just the tournament's fault, some of it is bad luck.
But the way it is set up when you play three, four weeks in a row they're sort of thinking they want to peak at the Open. So if something happens where that throws that preparation off, then these are the type of tournaments that get burned.
And it's unbelievable how much this is happening in the women's game. I don't think there is anyone here that could not say it's a big problem. I mean, obviously, Serena hasn't played since Wimbledon, and you'd want her to come play here. Venus is not playing. I think I heard Sharapova pulled out. I'm not even sure. I'm afraid to mention other players because they may have pulled out.
Then Serena may play next week, and you know, it's a little different with the women, because they don't go for two out of three to best of five. So Serena for example, or Venus, they could play next week without that sort of taking a toll the way it would a man who would play the week before.
That's a little riskier for a man than a woman. Because the men go switch from two out of three to best of five. So if they got stuck playing a full event next week, and then having to play a tough first round match or second, that could impact the result.
So, it's just unfortunate. It's really bad. But the way it's set up, I'm not sure there's a lot that can be done about it. Guess who you're going to want here next year? Serena and Venus and Sharapova. So what is the penalty?
I mean, some of it, look, we saw Serena pull up and Venus, they had been in and out for a time. And Sharapova was complaining a couple weeks, even before she played the two tournaments she was complaining about her shoulder bothering her. I played against her on a TeamTennis match, and she had mentioned that she had tweaked, I think it was her foot or something, and that was even before she played those two tournaments.
So you knew, I mean, if I was a guy I would be thinking well, I'm not sure which event it's going to be, but one of them she's going to try to rest herself up to get ready for the open.

Q. What was it about you that made you keep coming back to this tournament? 16 years in a row you came to this tournament? What was it about Canada?
JOHN McENROE: I believe it was 15. But maybe it was 16. Was it 16, John?

Q. 17.
JOHN McENROE: 17? What?

Q. You qualified in the first year.
JOHN McENROE: Really? I thought I -- I don't remember qualifying, but I'm going to challenge that (laughing). To me, I was one of the players that felt like if you weren't 100%, I would still come, because I felt like, I don't know, I didn't like losing. I think people that saw me play realized I didn't like losing. But I also felt there were times you could work your way through it and maybe get lucky.
Also, there is obviously, the expectation of people wanting you to come. So there is this like push and pull. One time I had to pull out. I badly sprained my ankle, I gave it a go and couldn't play. It really affected me. And I tried to at least give it a go, because I know that I just feel like that would come back to you in the end. And people would respect that ultimately.
This also was a good test for me to see where in the older days, Cincinnati, which is played this week, I believe for many years was right before the open. So again, it is what I refer to that last question, rolling the dice a little bit.
I prefer to try to hone my game the week before. And this was an event that worked well, and I think that some of it was just a comfort level, being close to where I was at home.
John would always go the extra nine yards to make me feel, despite the fact he was paying me horse manure to come here (laughing). You get a free hotel. Wow, that's great (smiling). But nonetheless, it somehow worked out.
At the end, I mean, my last year playing, John, was nice enough to give me a guitar, which he knew that I was a big music fan. That's, to this day, the only gift I received from any tournament, which is -- so, I have a special feeling about that. And I wasn't one for doing sort of retirement things. So I never announced my retirement.
In my mind, I decided in '92, that unless a won a major, and I hadn't won one for a number of years, so I wasn't exactly going on out on a huge limb there, but I still believed in my heart of hearts somehow that I could maybe win one.
And I got to the quarters with the Australian in the semis at Wimbledon and 16's at the Open. And lost to some guy who I thought was not that great on grass, Andre Agassi. That guy's not bad, right, you know (laughing). Turned out to be a pretty great player.
And Jim, who I'm playing tonight was the last match I ever played in a major. Losing to him, when he, I believe got to the final that's year. And I think at that point he was ranked No. 1. So I gave it my best, and I sort of felt like deep down it was probably over for me after that year. But never announced anything. But at least I did get that one gift.
Though, subsequently, the airlines have lost it and broken it. So, if you don't -- maybe I'm getting a new one tonight, I don't know (laughing). Or maybe I forgot to tell that you I've lost that.

Q. How serious are you taking tonight's match?
JOHN McENROE: Well, this is an exhibition. But I take every match seriously. My idea would be to play great, win in a close match. You know, there would be no point in wing 6-0, 6-0. What would that do on either side?
If we were just playing all out -- because we can play pretty -- it can go either way. Jim can have days where he just plays great, and some days I've played well against him.
I don't play that many of these, so this maybe half dozen, maybe 5 to 10 at most in the year and some events. Every time I go out there, I know that my days are numbered. So having not played here for a while and wanting to show I can still play some, if I don't take it seriously, then I'll really be bad.
I don't know what's going to happen even when I go out later. I'm not sure what's going to happen. Can you have days where it just doesn't happen.
These conditions right now are pretty brutal. Hopefully it will calm down a little bit. Right now it's pretty rough winds. That usually lowers the level of play. I'm hopeful that will settle down by the time we play at 8:00.

Q. Have all four of you met together yet to prepare for this?
JOHN McENROE: Have all four of us met?

Q. Yeah, the players, in Toronto, have you guys all sat down together yet?
JOHN McENROE: No, we haven't analyzed or had any talks yet, no. I haven't even seen the ladies as of this time, so I believe they're not afraid, they're still going to show up (smiling).

Q. Your skill always spoke for itself. But I think more or less it was your character that piqued interest around the world. Is the sport missing those character guys today or is talent alone, guys like Federer and Nadal enough?
JOHN McENROE: Well, it's a different time in all sports. So I'd like to think that if it wasn't the fact I could play and was ranked No. 1, that other part that you mentioned like the character, wouldn't have been as much of an issue. But it became more, obviously, because I was beating everybody. Or winning most of the time.
So if you're 200 in the world, they're not going to spend a whole lot of time discussing it. I think that's -- but to me, in a one-on-one game, I do think it's very important to have personality and to express that, and I think people realize that we need to encourage the players. I and I think Nadal plays with a lot of personality and energy.
And Djokovic has character. And Roger's just -- he does let his actions speak louder than words, obviously. But he's such a class player and class guy, there is an elegance to his play that is really magical to watch. I've never seen a guy as beautiful a player as Roger.
Other than maybe Laver who was my idol, and Laver was a different, earlier time, and he was obviously a big reason why we're here. But I think that, and I'm hopeful that tennis is doing things to allow and encourage that to happen more and to do a better job at making these guys better known. If they're not American, say in America.
What's wrong with tennis? You know, we've got two guys still in the Top 10, and I think Roddick's got a lot of personality. And Blake is a great story in his own, what he went through to get back where he was. We seem like we should be able to market that better on both sides.
Hopefully we'll get to -- I think we're doing a little better job with that. I think we've turned the corner, and hopefully we're headed in a better direction, I think we are.
THE MODERATOR: We have time for one more question, and just to answer your challenge, we did a fact check, 16.
JOHN McENROE: I didn't qualify either, right? That's a bag of lies (smiling).

Q. On the man's side, it's been a while since no Americans are threatening for the No. 1 spot. You think that American tennis is in decline to European countries like France and Spain that have more people in the top hundred?
JOHN McENROE: Well, we have two players in the Top 10. And Gasquet, you mention France. France has a tradition in tennis, there are some great clubs in France. Tennis is at a higher echelon than other sports, in America, for example. And they also put more money into it.
Not only, I believe, you know, maybe the percentage of it, I believe, in governments in Spain had the Olympics in '92, they put more money into it. Sweden had programs before France. It doesn't mean that's the only way to do it.
You look at Russia, a lot of those players have gone to different, Spain in particular, in America. And America has been spoiled by a lot of success. But there's other countries that are taking the sport as seriously, if not more so, than America. And I think that you're seeing the fruitions of that.
But then again, who would have thought that the two best players in the world would be No. 1 from Switzerland. I mean, you can go check the history books there's not a lot of Swiss players winning Grand Slams before Federer. And No. 2 from Mallorca which is a tiny island off of the coast of Spain. Or for that matter Baghdatis who is from Cyprus, which is another island. These are like resort areas. You don't think of players like Nadal coming out of Mallorca, that's unheard of.
So I think the proof that some of it is just the person itself, and being around the right situation. Great family in that case. Roger had some history with being next to a tennis club. It's all about getting opportunity and having the kid sort of take to it. And we need to do a better job in America of giving more kids the opportunity to play and to get better coaching, I think, at a younger level.
I think the next step in the evolution, hopefully, is you see the games totally change, similar to baseball. I'll wrap this up in 30 seconds. But you have baseball, they have the smaller handles, lighter bats, more racquet speed. That is in essence what they're doing in tennis. But what they've lost a little bit is because the ball's coming so much faster with the strings and stuff, people are even more afraid to come to nets.
So you're losing some of that, as a kid. I'll give you an example of what I believe we should do. I think we should have courts, smaller sizes when they're kids. Two-thirds the size, so that kids feel like they can cover the court at 12 years old, and be more encouraged to volley.
Because soccer field, football field, baseball field, hockey rink, when they're 8 years old or 10, they're not playing in the same size as professionals. Tennis is one of the only games I can think of where it's the same size. And that's hard when you're 8 or 10, so you stay on the baseline, and people are honing their baseline games and serving.
So we need to encourage this idea of getting kids more well-rounded in all countries. But that's what if I am ever part of what I hope to be part of like a tennis academy of my own in Flushing Meadows where I've said would be a great place or wherever that is, that would be my number one goal, more well rounded.
That's the way I was taught. Not to have any weaknesses, and to have more not necessarily a big huge strength, but not a weakness. And I think America's still, you know, look at the Williams sisters. I mean, the Williams sisters that is a pretty unbelievable story if you think about it. That doesn't come along every, what? Ever? (Smiling). Two sisters like that?

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