John McEnroe (Wiesbaden, Germany; 62 years old) attends via videoconference to a small selection of European media, including EL PAÍS. The former number one sips from a cup of coffee, wears horn-rimmed glasses and wears a flannel shirt that wraps around an undershirt. He responds from an orderly office in which three elements stand out on the shelves: behind him, a guitar case flanked by two suitcases and to the side, several shelves loaded with books. Big Mac, one of the most iconic and unique tennis players in history, accompanies the messages of his characteristic expressiveness and deepens. Reputed analyst, the American dissects these days on the Eurosport channel —within an extensive coverage that broadcasts the entire Australian Open— everything that happens daily on the slopes of Melbourne Park. And he does it his way, volleying in response.
Ask. Do you think that what has happened with Novak Djokovic could mark a turning point in your career?
Answer. It is very difficult to guess. There is no doubt that it is a hard blow for him. Perhaps it could be a turning point in his life and it could also mark a turning point in the battle with the other two guys. [Rafael Nadal y Roger Federer], who also own 20 grand and sure want to distance themselves. Everything that has happened in Melbourne and Novak’s attitude shows how strongly he believes in his ideas. He was willing to take the risk and not get vaccinated, and has gone with it to the end. It’s sad, his future is uncertain.
P. Do you think you will be able to recover emotionally?
R. It will affect you a lot. Now they have changed the law and say that you have to get vaccinated, but it is not known what will happen in the coming months. This plot continues. This whole situation is going to require you to deal with a lot of things and be under a lot of pressure, even if you believe one hundred percent that you are right. He’s obviously amazing in pressure situations and he’s fighting a lot. But this is a challenge. Therefore, we will have to wait to see how everything evolves from here on out. It seems that to play at Roland Garros you will have to be vaccinated, and what will happen with Wimbledon?
P. In some way, have you definitely lost touch with Nadal and Federer?
R. It is not easy to be loved and I know well those moments when people are against you, because deep down we all like to feel loved. All of this is complicated for someone who has worked as hard to be loved as Novak.
The controversy of the vaccine is a hard blow for Djokovic, it will affect him a lot. Your future is uncertain
P. Which of the three will prevail in the great historic race?
R. I don’t know how much Roger has left. I remember when I was with Milos Raonic [colaborando con el tenista canadiense en Wimbledon 2016], Milos beat him in five sets in the semis and Roger limped off the court, and I thought: this is the end, he’s never going to win a big one again, time has caught up with him. He went six months without playing a tournament and goes and wins in Australia, and two more grands after that. He seems superhuman, so I’m not going to say he won’t be able to win another big one. He is 40 years old, he is a legend. It’s amazing, much more than that, and what I say goes for all three. If we ask who is the best, for me Roger has always been the best player on grass, but we have seen Novak beat him two or three times at Wimbledon. De Novak I would say he is the best player on hard court and Rafa the best player on clay. It means that none of them are the best on all surfaces, but you do have a case for each. It would almost be better if they remained tied forever.
P. But if you had to choose a name, what would it be?
R. If Novak won a couple more, and to that we would have to add that he has a better particular score with both, it would be hard to say that he is not the best of the three. Federer has the most beautiful game that I have ever seen. I used to idealize Rod Laver, but watching Federer play is the best. You see Nadal play and you wonder, where did this man come from? I didn’t think it was possible to play like that. You see Rafa play and you recognize that he is the one who puts the most effort into it. Novak is inhuman at the bottom of the track; his flexibility and the shots he takes…
P. Do you trust that Nadal can still continue playing and winning for a few years?
R. It’s what we all want to know. I don’t know how his foot is. I hope well, because Rafael Nadal is incredible for this sport. We all thought, after watching Rafa play for the last 15 years, that because of his style he was not going to be able to last as long as he has, but he is surrounded by an incredible team, he is a human being that you rarely meet, those that with the mind surpass everything that is bodily. He has a mental strength that is insane, to the point that he has maintained a positive attitude when most people would be turned off, despondent, and even leave him. He always talks about what he likes to compete. That is his greatest quality, that he can compete, that he works hard in every game. It is the greatest quality that an athlete can have. Even if it was just one more year, we all want him to be able to go out and play and compete near the level we have seen him.
P. Carlos Alcaraz is the great sensation among young people. Is it as good as it is said?
R. I think we all agree that this guy [18 años] He is incredibly talented and capable of great things. No doubt about that. He has the heart and the faith; obviously, in that sense, he is sure to observe Rafa [Nadal] because everyone does it and I suppose, above all, in Spain. You see someone who makes that kind of effort… If you want to be truly respectful, you have to make that kind of effort on the court, which is the most difficult thing in the world for any player. I tried to do it with [Jimmy] Connors. He was the guy who made the most effort and today he is Nadal. I think Alcaraz has something of that. He is a sponge, he absorbs all the information, just like Sinner [italiano de 20 años y 10º del mundo]; he uses it and progresses quickly. Six or eight months ago, who would have thought that he could play on hard courts? Now, suddenly, maybe he’s better on hard than clay. He has made incredible progress.
Nadal is one of those beings that are rarely found, one of those that with the mind surpasses everything that is bodily
P. Do you see him lifting big trophies and reaching number one on the circuit?
R. I think he’s going to win a lot of big ones. The only thing that worries me is the height. I’m not sure if I’m 1.85m [la cifra oficial de la ATP]Same as Rafael. I’m not sure… When I saw him I thought he was about my height [1,80], although I expect it to be 1.82m; yes, 1.82m is fine, although this makes it more difficult. Look at these guys now: they’re tall, they’re 2.01, 1.92, 1.95… Now it’s harder to compete if you’re shorter. In any case, I think he has incredible legs and movement, and he should use all of that well. He must be smart because he’s going to have to play against these tall guys consistently: Berrettini [1,96], and then Medvedev will be there [1,98] and then Tsitsipas [1,93]… But it’s very light and extremely fast, so maybe that’s not a problem. I’d keep an eye on that, but otherwise I’d say he’s going to win a lot of big ones.
P. If he wins the tournament, Daniil Medvedev would become number one. Do you identify with your rebellion?
R. I love watching him play, he’s my favorite player. It looks like he is playing chess on the court. I would love to play against him, to see how well I served and volleyed, and send him the low ball and throw some drop shots; Daniil stands so far back on the court… It’s a bit like Borg, you say to yourself: is he really going to play from there? He has that mentality: I’m going to keep doing this, I don’t care what they think. For that alone I love it. I would say he is the best hard court player in the world right now. You looked at Borg and wondered: why is this guy running all over the track? And the same thing happens with him. He measures 1.98 and is very thin, but he moves better than anyone in the entire history of tennis; Considering his height, there is none that comes close.
P. Speaking of rebellion, you were expelled from the Open in 1990, in the round of 16 match against Sweden’s Mikael Pernfors. He remembers?
R. I would like to say that I don’t remember it well, but… It was a situation similar to what has been seen in recent days with the heat, and in those conditions it would be necessary to give a little barracks, because if I make the racket bounce against the ground there is no reason to take a point from me. I would say that I was a little irritable, but I still believed that I was going to win the match. It was the best of five sets, but they also gave me up for lost a game, and I didn’t know that the rules had changed. That was the part that our friend, Mr. Palmeri [su agente entonces], you forgot to comment me. I really shouldn’t blame anyone, because ultimately the one to blame is me.
P. He said this week that tennis has gotten better at accepting that there are different personalities and Nick Kyrgios denounces that only the three giants are promoted. What do you think?
R. Those who are possibly the three greatest players who have ever lived have coincided, playing at the same time, demanding themselves to be better. It would be hard not to focus on that, when they have 20 grand each and the others have zero or one. No offense intended, they deserve much more attention than anyone else. I think that tennis needs people with personality, I love that there are different personalities; Now, I totally agree with Nick that we should do everything we can to promote other players, but I would also ask him to do one thing, because I really like him and he’s a good guy, and the fans go crazy for him: please Nick, it would be amazing if you went out there and pushed yourself like Nadal does. One year. Or how about making it a single tournament? Maybe a match. Strive like this for a single game. We would all win, including himself. He has incredible talent. It would be amazing. I have tried to talk to him many times. And people say, hey, it would make a lot of sense for McEnroe and Kyrgios to work together. It is something for him to decide. He’s a smart guy.
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