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John McEnroe: “Everyone is trying to copy Alcaraz”

The American tennis legend gave a wide ranging interview on the current state of the game and some of the leading players including Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz

John McEnroe.

John McEnroe (Wiesbaden, Germany, 64 years old) doesn’t hold back when talking about tennis. The American legend and seven-time Grand Slam winner spoke to AS along with other media outlets in an interview organized by Eurosport (which exclusively offers the whole of Roland Garros 2023 live and on-demand on their TV channels and the Eurosport App). McEnroe was deadly serious about giving his opinion what’s happening right now in tennis, from Alcaraz’s prospects, Djokovic’s chances at Roland Garros to Nadal’s strength of character as he tries to come back. There’s no topic he’s afraid of discussing...

Q: People were saying Alcaraz is the favourite, but surely that would be writing off Djokovic too quickly.

A: “No, no, nobody is writing him off. Obviously we’re sort of all anticipating that Tsitsipas has the better chance even though he’s lost I think three four in a row to Alcaraz, so it looks like both those guys are gonna get to the semi barring some major surprise so I think it’s super exciting because Alcaraz is so electric and Djokovic is the most technically sound player. No one is writing Djokovic off, I can assure you.

¿How many Grand Slams can Alcaraz win?

If you had asked me 15 years ago how many Grand Slams could Nadal win or Djokovic win... because I used to think seven was pretty good. Now it’s not so good. And I remember Sampras winning his 14 and then he retired. He was 31 years old. Never played another grand slam and it seemed like that was a great way to go out. And then you thought, it took him 35 years to catch Roy Emerson’s record, so it’s gonna take someone 35 years to catch Pete Sampras and not three guys just blowing by him and getting 20. It’s crazy, it’s insane. In our careers getting to 10 would be incredible. I would obviously think he could do that. If he stays healthy, he can easily get 10 but even so 10 is an awful lot of majors. So in a way, I don’t want to put too much pressure on the guy. He’s the best kid I’ve ever seen at his age. But some people are saying he could win 25, people are already expecting a lot from him. But I think he’ll win a lot.

Carlos decided not to train on his days off in Paris. Do you think that’s a good decision?

I’ve watched tennis for the better part of 40 or 50 years and I’ve never seen a player this good, this complete, at 20 years old. Becker was the best at 17 or 18, but Alcaraz at this age. He’s got everything. So whatever he’s doing is making a lot of sense. I wish that I had done that. Sometimes I felt like I should take days off and I did sometimes but most of the time you come out and you practice for an hour. To me, it’s like a waste of time. It’s more important to recover to get your body worked on and to do what it takes to be ready. He’s played plenty of matches. He doesn’t need to do an hour of practice.

Alcaraz in action during his fourth round match against Italy's Lorenzo Musetti, which he won 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
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Alcaraz in action during his fourth round match against Italy's Lorenzo Musetti, which he won 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.CLODAGH KILCOYNEREUTERS

Can you see anyone dominating the clay courts in the coming years like Nadal did?

No. That would seem impossible. To dominate like that. Right now. I don’t see a player. That would be asking something that would be so crazy.

“If he stays healthy, Alcaraz can win 10 Grand Slams easily”

John McEnroe

Have you seen a change recently on the clay with more drop shots being used?

Well, definitely more dropshots. You know, no question about that as far as more people coming to net. I hope so. I love to see net play. I think that you’re seeing more, or remembering more, because players generally are playing so far back now. So I think it’s a smart tactic because you basically have to hit one good shot, and the person has to hit a great return. You can come in and hit a drop volley, so it’s more a tactical thing. These guys and girls hit the ball so hard that, for me, the best have more variety.

Alcaraz has the most - he’s the best volleyer at his age, and he’s so good that I think other players try to copy that player, and they think, “wait a minute, he’s number one, maybe I should do that too”. So it’s a natural thing. I think it’s something that’s holding back Sinner for example, I don’t think he’s as comfortable at net as Alcatraz and so I think that’s an issue that he’s got to deal with.

Do you think Nadal can come back and win Grand Slams again?

I think we’d like all like to know the answer to that question, but if anyone could do it, it’d be him. If you sat here 15 years ago and said, “Do you think someone could win 14 French opens?” I would have said, “You’re out of your mind for asking that question”. So to say that he can’t come back is crazy. I mean, obviously it a lot has to do with how the surgery went. But it seems like he’s still got great motivation. He obviously loves to play.

I think you heard him say he wants to go out next year and say thank you to people. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s total class act, giving an opportunity for fans from all over the world to see him at least one more time. So we’ll have to see how it plays out. I know one thing if you were a player, you wouldn’t want to be playing Rafa at the the French Open. And you probably wouldn’t want to be playing him if he was healthy at any any Grand Slam.

Rafa Nadal talks to John McEnroe after beating Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open in 2020.
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Rafa Nadal talks to John McEnroe after beating Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open in 2020.GREG WOODAFP

If Djokovic wins Roland Garros does that make him the Greatest of All Time?

Well, that’s obviously a matter of opinion. I think you could easily make an argument for all three of them to be truthful. So it certainly would have more people talking about it [him being the GOAT] because he’d be the only guy to have won all four of them at least three times. I think that the fact that he’s talked about it so openly, that it’s a goal of his - I think that takes a lot of guts in itself, just to say, “I want it”, instead of saying, “Well, I’m just doing the best I can and, you know, whatever happens happens.” That impresses me. I would say that to me, Nadal is the greatest player that ever lived on clay. I would say Novak would be the greatest on hard courts and I’d say Roger on grass, even though Djokovic has actually beaten Roger a few times, at Wimbledon. But that’s the way I sort of don’t answer the question.

But you know, certainly Djokovic is right there and I think it’s amazing because he was trying to get in that mix for so long and to be playing so well at this age - it’s hard to believe actually.

We’ve seen a number of instances of the players having confrontations with the fans, what do you think of that?

I like it. I think it makes it more fun. You get to see some more energy. The crowd gets into it. The players are pumped up. The key though, if you’re a player and I certainly know something about this is you’ve got to be able to turn back and get your focus and concentration. If you can do that, you should do it. And I love it. If it hurts you you shouldn’t do it. You know certain players it may affect in a negative way. So you’ve got to know yourself and your personality and what makes you play your best tennis.

“I like to see the players facing up to the fans, it makes it more entertaining”

John McEnroe

Does Rune’s behaviour remind you of you at times?

He’s got an attitude, you know, he’s cocky and I believe you need that. Be yourself. I think last year he was disrespectful to Casper [Ruud] in the quarterfinals. And I think that because of that a lot of the players were like, “Who the hell does he think he is.” You got to show respect at the end of match and I think there were times made where people didn’t think I was being very respectful during the match, but I’d like to think that at the end if I lost, I would pay my respects to my opponent. He’s started to do that. Realised what he needs to do. He’s a kid, he’s 20 years old. He just turned 20. So I like his attitude. I think it’s good for the game. It’s a good contrast compared to Alcaraz and the other up and coming players. It’s the type of attitude we need. We need to see that.

Will there be a new Big Three in tennis after Nadal, Federer and Djokovic?

That’s that’s a great question. I would certainly put Alcaraz in there and I’d put Runa in there. After that, to me, it’s a little difficult to say who will step up. Will Medvedev step up and win a bunch more? I think for me there will be three or four but then someone will come out of the woodworks again, and there’ll be another person - hopefully an American. You know, I think there’s a couple of Americans with real upside. I think Tiafoe will be in the top Top 10 soon. And players like Ben Shelton, potentially has some great upside although he has struggled for a while. So it would be certainly exciting for our sport, but Novak’s doesn’t seem to be going anywhere yet.

John McEnroe celebrates at Wimbledon in 1981 after beating Bjorn Borg.
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John McEnroe celebrates at Wimbledon in 1981 after beating Bjorn Borg.STFAFP

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