It’s been three years since John McEnroe came to Roland Garros. The former glory of world tennis is this time there to enjoy the show, but also to talk about the training, the young generation, their academy, although he remains very critical of his sport.
How do you see tennis today?
With the exception of the best players, Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and the new generation with Alcaraz, I think tennis as a whole has become very stereotypical. High-performance racket technology has changed everything. Before, it was not enough to be an athlete to win. Artists, stylists said theirs and won most of the time. Today brute force prevails over beautiful play. There are too many big guys sending missiles from the right or service. Tennis needs to be reinvented to be exciting again.
Your sport is losing momentum, especially with the public. How to reinvent it?
Sport is no longer king in my country and in the rest of the world because society has changed. This one has no more time. I think stopping playing games in 5 sets would be a way out. Five-hour matches are too much. Playing 4 sets with, in the event of a 6-match tie everywhere, a 10-point tie-break, is a solution that could be attractive. It would also eliminate the warm-up period. It is painful to see and useless. They should reach the track already warmed up. There is also this story of letting go of the service. At the beginning of my career I would have been told “we’re stopping him”, I would have thought he was stupid. Today I would say yes, why not?
You created the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York. Is this a way to get back into the sport you owe it to?
Yes, I wanted to go back to New York and tennis for what they gave me. A kind of inheritance. I was very privileged in my youth and I wish I could offer that opportunity to young talent. However, playing tennis today is two to three times more expensive than when I was a kid. It has even become too expensive! As a teenager, to have a good coach and to want to shine nationally, you need to have a minimum budget of 46,000 euros per year. Thanks to the academy and the collaborations we have forged with some, such as BNP Paribas’ Young Talents program, we allow children from disadvantaged neighborhoods to afford this dream.
What is your role in the academy?
My role is just to inspire them, to make them want to follow their dream. They must not see in me the old man who played with wooden rackets, but what can accompany them, help them to perhaps one day become a champion. I can bring you these keys. My role must be to be a leader, an inspiration. The rest of my team at the academy is there to provide them with the technical basics. But to give all these children the desire and pleasure to play, you also need to get your parents in your pocket. They are often the source of the problem in a child’s development. They see him as a future champion too soon, when on the contrary he should be given time to develop as a person.
Obviously, when we train future professional tennis players, we look at the qualities of the court, their movements, but that’s not all. They also need to be supported psychologically. We see more and more players suffering from panic attacks. Naomi Osaka, who finally knew nothing but tennis, suffered. He did not have time to grow normally.
Didn’t that kind of thing exist in your day?
Yes, it could happen. I remember for my first Roland-Garros, the American federation gave me $ 500 and it was. I had to go it alone to sign up for the grades. I had to find my hotel on my own. No one to help me when I was still number one in junior. I was a little lost. With my academy, this is precisely what I try to avoid by providing real supervision at all levels.