If you’d told him 30 years ago that golf’s popularity would eclipse that of tennis, John McEnroe might have come back with his trademark, “You can’t be serious!” But in a rapid-fire Q and A on cnn.com, McEnroe, 54, concedes tennis has a lot of work to do if it wants to regain supremacy among the country club sports. He pinpoints the sport’s downfall not to Tiger Woods but to tennis itself.
“I think tennis was bad for tennis more than [Woods] was bad for tennis. Clearly there are a lot of elder statesman that it’s a lot easier for them to go on a golf course than the tennis court. I happened to be one of those guys who doesn’t play much golf.
“I know it’s an extremely difficult game but in terms of keeping your health and in terms of what tennis has got to offer, I think it’s a great sport, so I’m perplexed by the people who make that decision.”
Still, McEnroe holds out hope for a change of heart, holding fast to the idea that if tennis ruled once, it can rule again. What does the chair umpire say? With golf’s grim recent participation figures, and Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal making tennis more interesting than it has been since the Agassi-Sampras era, and maybe even the Borg-McEnroe era, Mac might be right.
“Back in my day in the early to mid-’80s, that’s when they feel I nipped with [Arnold] Palmer and [Gary] Player who were incredible champions — we were getting double the ratings of golf. If you would have told me then that golf would out-rate tennis, I would have laughed at you.
“Now they look at me like I’m crazy, like remember when tennis did better in the ratings than golf. But there’s some marketing things we don’t do, we’re not reaching out to the fan the way golf or a lot of other sports do, so we’ve got our work cut out for us, but that doesn’t mean it can’t turn around.”
Photo: John McEnroe during the Legends Final against Mats Wilander during the Statoil Masters Tennis in London in December 2012. He won the match (Getty Images).