During a sometimes temperamental tennis career, John McEnroe won 77 singles titles (including seven Grand Slam championships) and was ranked number one in the world four consecutive years (1981-84). In 1980, only a few months before his epic Wimbledon final with Bjorn Borg, McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors to win the U.S. National Indoor championship at The Racquet Club of Memphis. The popular author and sports analyst, now 47, will be back at The Racquet Club -- in sneakers -- to compete in the Stanford Championships (October 4-8), part of the Outback Champions Series.
Tell us about the inspiration for this legends series.
Jimmy Connors started a seniors tour about 15 years ago, and I started playing when I retired near the end of 1992. Because of 9/11 and some economic issues, the tour had gone away in the States. So Jim Courier and his group put this event together. I think it's something that can add to the sport. The eight-man round-robin seems to be the best-suited for sponsors and fans, the idea being that you're assured of seeing the best players for three days.
Even the best tennis players retire in their early 30s. Is this a way to keep the competitive fires stoked?
Absolutely. I don't think you ever lose that. For a lesser period of time, I think we can still play at a high level. I'm not pretending it's Wimbledon anymore, but we've been playing in front of 3,000 people. We're fortunate in our sport, in that we're not crippled [after our playing careers]. Playing two sets and a tie-break, we can maximize what we have left.
Do you look back on your prime -- playing the likes of Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, and Ivan Lendl -- as a golden era in tennis history?
I may be biased, but yes. I came along in a time when tennis really began to explode, with lots of personalities and characters in the sport. I saw guys like Ilie Nastase, Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis, Guillermo Villas. The effort level Connors showed made me work that much harder. The aura that Borg had; I started calling him "the Viking god." In a one-on-one game, you really need those rivals, those personalities. Instead of tightening the rules and getting a bunch of robots out there, [the ATP Tour] should try and encourage the players to express themselves. You've got to go after the fans a lot more than you did before.
Any specific memories about your championship here in Memphis?
I remember playing the Davis Cup there, and that was probably the more significant memory. It's a perfect example of a club atmosphere, an intimate setting where the fans are close to you, a place where they knew the tennis, but they were excited because it wasn't there all the time.
Did you like playing indoors?
I did, quite a bit. There are certain elements -- sun and wind being the most obvious -- that you didn't have to worry about [indoors]. In some ways, I thought it allowed you to play your best tennis. I felt I could showcase my abilities the best. I wasn't as big or strong as some of the other players, but I saw the ball earlier, and could take it earlier.
How does the man once known as "Super Brat" become a best-selling author and one of the most respected tennis analysts in the world?
You're never as bad as they make you appear, and never as good as when they're telling you how great you are. Having kids, you're going to mature whether you like it or not. As far as the commentary, people see me in a way they didn't when I was on a tennis court. I played the way I was taught: ultra-intense, no joking around. And it might rub you the wrong way. People felt one way or the other, which is better than having no feeling at all. Now, I can be more my natural self, not take myself too seriously. Some self-deprecation, but I know the game. It's more of a real picture of who I am.