It’s been three years since John McEnroe joined Roland-Garros. The former greatness of world tennis is there this time to enjoy the show, but also to talk about training, the young generation, his academy, while remaining very critical of his sport.
How do you view current tennis?
Aside from the top players, Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and the new generation with Alcaraz, I think tennis as a whole has become very stereotypical. Technology with high-performance rackets has changed everything. Before, being an athlete was not enough to win. The artists, the stylists said their opinion and they won more often than not. Today, brute force rules the beautiful game. There are too many big guys sending missiles from the forehand or the serve. Tennis needs to reinvent itself to become exciting again.
Your sport is losing momentum, especially in public. How to reinvent it?
It is no longer the royal sport in my country and in the rest of the world because society has changed. This one has no more time. I think that no longer playing matches in 5 sets would be a way to clear. Fights that last five hours are too much. Playing 4 sets with, in the event of a draw at 6 matches overall, a tie-break of 10 points, is a solution that could be attractive. I also wanted to remove the warm-up period. It’s painful to look at and it’s useless. They were to arrive on the field already warmed up. There is also this story about the rental in the service. At the beginning of my career I would have been told “we stop him”, I would have found that stupid. Today I want to say yes, why not?
You created the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York. Is this a way to give back to this sport what you owe it?
Yes, I would give back to New York and tennis what they gave me. A kind of legacy. I was very privileged in my youth and I would like to be able to offer young talents this opportunity. But today, playing tennis is two to three times more expensive than when I was a kid. It has even become overpriced! As a teenager, you need to have a minimum budget of 46,000 euros a year to have a good coach and hope to shine at the national level. Thanks to the academy and the partnerships we have entered into with some, such as the BNP Paribas Young Talents program, we give children who come from underprivileged neighborhoods advice on this dream.
What is your role at the academy?
My role is simply to inspire them, to make them want to go after their dream. They should not see in me the old man who played with trekking rackets, but the one who can accompany them, help them to maybe one day become a champion. I can bring them the keys. My role should be as a leader, an inspiration. The rest of my team at the academy is there to give them the technical basics. But to give the desire and pleasure of playing to all these children, it is also necessary to succeed in putting the parents in the pocket. They are often the source of the problem in a child’s development. They see him far too soon as a future champion, when on the contrary he must have time to develop as a person.
It is clear that when we train future professional tennis players, we look at the characteristics of the court, their movements, but it is not only that. You also need to support them psychologically. We see more and more players having panic attacks. Naomi Osaka, who in the end knew nothing but tennis, suffered from it. She did not have time to grow normally.
That kind did not exist in your time?
Yes, it could happen. I remember that for my first Roland-Garros, the American Confederation gave me $ 500, and that was it. I had to fend for myself to sign up for the qualifications. I had to find my hotel on my own. No one to help me as I was still number one in the juniors. I was a little lost. With my academy, this is exactly what I try to avoid by providing real supervision at all levels.