The New Sun

An Interview with John McEnroe

Lese Dunton:What is it that attracted you to art and how did you come about starting a gallery?

John McEnroe: I think it was feeling like I wasn't using all parts of my brain. The way I look at it, there's two sides of the brain. One is this athletic and competitive side and the other is more cerebral, where you sort of take it all in, like art and music. The yin and yang kind of thing.

With the amount of effort, training and competing that goes on in being a professional tennis player, it seemed like a great way of opening up another side of my brain and enjoying it. Even though I have a great living being a professional tennis player, it would feel like, at times, I needed to get away from the competitive stress.

Art was something that I didn't do much of as a kid, at all. My parents took me to all the sporting events but they didn't take me to the Met. And they weren't movie people, my parents. So, when I got a little money of my own -- where you can buy your own house or an apartment in the city -- then you have these empty walls.

Art was something I derived pleasure from; coming back and looking at something that made me feel good.

LD: Speaking of being focused and relaxed, I heard you practice yoga.

JM: I like yoga. I don't practice it on a full-time basis. It was something that came later on. I had become frustrated with my own inflexibility, which started to affect my ability to make some moves on the tennis court that I took for granted. As I started to get older, only in my late 20s, I felt like there were certain areas of my body that were hindering me because they were too stiff. So yoga was something that I hit upon.

Some other players were doing it, like my doubles partner, Peter Fleming, who had gone to UCLA. It's something you associate a little more with the West Coast. People seem to be more open to trying different things. It was something that I thought potentially could have been really good for me. It was difficult, the juxtaposition of being on a tennis court where you're sort of pounding your body, and then off the court where you're trying to relax it and get it more flexible.

It was difficult for me as a competitor when I would see people in the room who were really flexible and more at peace, in a sense, with their minds and their bodies. And I was just having to push through a part where I was just too tight. It became somewhat disappointing that I wasn't able to get more out of it than I did. Although I did see the benefits.

Whether it's yoga, or tai chi, or some of the other martial arts forms that combine strength and flexibility -- it's definitely something that can be very positive. But tennis is a game where your body needs to have a certain tightness and it's difficult. You can't have it both ways. It's been sort of a source of frustration for me. I do some Yoga moves now. I try to stretch as much as I can because I think the older you get, I think it becomes even more important. But it's not something I do on a regular basis.

LD: You obviously have a love of children, your own and others. You're involved in tennis programs for youth, and the Andrea Jaeger's Silver Lining Foundation, for example.

JM: I basically take it as it comes. Andrea Jaeger was a personal friend who was a tennis player, so there's a camaraderie there. What she's done I think is the most outstanding thing I've seen in tennis in a long time. She had had seven shoulder surgeries and was the number 2, 3 player in the world and was suddenly thrust into a situation where she was basically out of the game at a very young age.

She turned some negatives in her life and utilized that energy in such a positive way. It really is a great example.

I have gotten to the stage where my belief is to try to take care of your own kids as best as possible. That's the first step. If everyone did that the world would be a better place. Also, understanding that what I have is pretty lucky, to give the time when I can to other kids' organizations or whatever it is that's out there. There are so many things out there. I expect in the next couple of years that I'll focus more time and energy on just one or two things. Now, wherever I'm needed, if I can do it, I'll do it, with certain exceptions. With Andrea, I try to go out of my way if I can because she's a personal friend of mine. With kids in general, I do have an affinity towards kids, so I have more of a desire to do things with them. I feel like I relate pretty well to young kids.

LD: What have kids taught you?

JM: Well, they've humbled me, which is good. You have this tendency to think you're a lot bigger or better than you are. They keep your feet on the ground. They make you realize that you experience all emotions. It's extremely rewarding yet it's also frustrating. I grew up thinking everything was in black and white and so you get to see the whole spectrum. Kids at all different ages have all different sets of concerns, and things that you have to worry about for them, and how you deal with them.

It's helped me to slowly but surely improve as a person and grow.

LD: You had made some comments about Boris Becker's martial troubles and the media's role in that. How do you envision the best way for the media to handle themselves in situations like that?

JM: I think, with the media, most of them, their first priority is who sells the most or has the best ratings, so accuracy goes out the window. I think it's gone too far in the privacy department. You'd like to think that if you lose a match it's because the player played better than you, not because your mind was on some distortion that was in the paper. It's hard to separate that at times. You have to accept it. It's something that I had to accept. You try to make the best out of it because, all things considered, you're in a great position. But particularly when you're going through a difficult period, when you most need some privacy, that's when you least get it. That's when it gets to be really difficult.

Some of these problems are obviously of his own doing and ultimately I'm not saying the press is the reason these things happen. I'm saying that the press contributes to these things and they'd be kidding themselves if they pretend otherwise. I think there are a lot of people that take some sort of weird pride in that.

LD: What does the future look like for you? What would make you even happier and more fulfilled?

JM: The future would be, hopefully, getting the sense that I'm improving as a person, and finding something that I could really commit my time and energy to. I see myself on this Senior Men's Tennis Tour coming to an end soon, in the next year or two. I find myself enjoying the commentary work but longing to do something beyond that. Whether it's doing it in some other sport or being part of something else -- it would be more of a challenge.

I've always loved radio. I was hoping to get involved in radio in some way. Ultimately, I think I could be the person to help turn things around in, say, New York in terms of there's not really a tennis academy there worth a hill of beans. Kids need to be inspired and they don't have that. I think that if I could get something together, a facility not even just for tennis. One of the things that I liked so much growing up was that I was able to play other sports. I played basketball, soccer, early on even football and baseball. I'd like to envision a place where there would be more than just tennis, and be the head of a place like that with kids, and working with kids. I'm hopeful that something like that can take place. Getting that together is extremely difficult, so we'll have to wait and see.

* * *

See also: New Sun article on Andre Jaeger's Silver Lining Foundation Fundraising Event wherein John made a speech.