Fame, set and match: What is it with tennis players wanting to be pop stars?

Can’t they just strum a racket in front  of the mirror like the rest of us?

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The Independent Culture

John McEnroe and Chrissie Hynde

Last year, while recording Stockholm, her first album away from The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde called the three-time Wimbledon men’s singles winner to impress her tennis-loving producer Bjorn Yttling, of Peter Bjorn and John fame. “When I first met Bjorn, I walked into his studio and noticed a tennis racket in there. He loves tennis,” she says. “Swedes are very stoic, you can’t get a rise out of them very easily. But I hit the spot when I told him I knew McEnroe.” Later, when the player-turned-commentator was in town, she got him into the studio. He didn’t disappoint and played a blistering guitar solo on “A Plan Too Far”, bringing to the song the same take-no-prisoners intensity that was a hallmark of his left-handed game. “If you’ve ever seen a John McEnroe tennis match, you can tell exactly who’s playing that guitar!” quips Hynde.

McEnroe, who first came to prominence and to the UK in 1977 at the height of punk, has previous of course. Not content with inspiring a 1982 Top 20 hit “Chalk Dust – The Umpire Strikes Back” by The Brat, aka actor Roger Kitter, and being referenced by House of Pain in the 1992 rap hit “Jump Around”, he is married to rock singer Patty Smyth of the band Scandal, co-led The Johnny Smyth Band with her through much of the nineties, and has jammed with Bruce Springsteen, Santana and Spinal Tap. Ace.

Pat Cash/John McEnroe and Roger Daltrey

In 1991, the 1987 Wimbledon winner, another guitar freak, joined forces with McEnroe and the Full Metal Rackets, ie Who vocalist Roger Daltrey and the Iron Maiden rhythm section of bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain, with their mate Andy Barnett bolstering the line-up. They re-recorded Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” for the charity Rock Aid Armenia and even did a couple of impromptu gigs at The Limelight and The Hippodrome in London. Cash has also guested with fellow Aussies INXS. Ace.

Yannick Noah and Jimmy Cliff

The 1983 French Open winner might never have progressed further than the third round at Wimbledon but he still has 23 men’s singles titles to his credit. And the music career he launched after retiring from tennis in 1990 has gone from strength to strength, with 10 best-selling albums, including Hommage, a collection of Bob Marley covers, a collaboration with Jimmy Cliff entitled “Take Your Time”, and the militant pop-reggae of “Saga Africa”, “Aux Arbres Citoyens” and “Angela”, his tribute to Angela Davis. In September 2010, he headlined the Stade de France in Paris, arguably a more momentous achievement than his 1983 Roland-Garros Singles win. Ace.

Jimmy Connors and Lionel Richie

In 1981, the two-time Wimbledon Men’s Singles winner met Lionel Richie, who had just left The Commodores. The next year, the soul singer cut his eponymous debut and asked Connors to sing backing vocals on the floor-filler “Tell Me”. Upon accepting the offer, Connors couldn’t resist having a pop at one of his main rivals. “McEnroe will eat his heart out,” he pointedly told People magazine, since at the time that wannabe musician had yet to make his recording debut. Connors then suggested that Richie could tour with him “as a warm-up boy”. Double fault.

Rafael Nadal and Shakira

Dubbed the King of Clay, the current world No 1 has also won the Wimbledon men’s singles title twice. Away from the circuit, he is better known for his love of football and his philanthropic activities rather than for playing any musical instrument. Yet, when the Colombian pop star Shakira suggested he might make the perfect love interest opposite her in the video for the “Gypsy” single in 2010, Nadal joined her on a shoot that became something of a steamy affair. So strong was the chemistry between the singer and the tennis champion that the footage was also used for the Spanish language version of the song entitled “Gitana”. But it wasn’t to be. A few weeks later, Shakira began a relationship with a football player, Spanish international Gerard Pique, the co-star of her next video, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)”, the official song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Ace.

Andy Murray and The Bryan Brothers Band

Long before his Wimbledon triumph last year, Britain’s No 1 demonstrated he didn’t take himself too seriously when, alongside Djokovic, he contributed a so-so rap to “Autograph”, a track on Let It Rip, the 2009 debut album by the Bryan Brothers Band, the group built around the identical US twins doubles players whose music is reminiscent of Maroon 5. Mind you, they had to talk Murray into doing a third take before he finally got into the swing of things. Double Fault.

Novak Djokovic and Martin Solveig

In 2010, the French electro house DJ Martin Solveig finally connected with the mainstream across Europe with the nagging floor-filler “Hello”, featuring the voice of Martina Sorbara, the front-woman of the Canadian electro-pop band Dragonette. The track’s success was undoubtedly helped by two cleverly conceived videos showcasing Solveig tackling rival French DJ Bob Sinclar at Roland-Garros, complete with cod commentary, trick shots and cameo appearances by Novak Djokovic, the Serbian player currently ranked No 2 in the world, as well as Gaël Monfils, the darling of French tennis. Ace.

Ilie Nastase and Christian Delagrange

He might have been nicknamed Nasty but the Romanian champion was just as legendary for the way he charmed the ladies as for his victories at the US and French Opens, and the 1972 Wimbledon final, when he narrowly lost to Stan Smith. Nastase transformed tennis from a relatively boring sport played by staid types like Rod Laver and John Newcombe, and paved the way for the era of Bjorn Borg, McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis, the player immortalized in the song “An Outbreak of Vitas Gerulaitis” by the surreal Birkenhead indie group Half Man Half Biscuit. By the mid-Seventies, there were “tennis groupies” and Nastase was in his element to such an extent that Maxim magazine ranked him sixth on their Living Sex Legends list published in 2006. Something of a renaissance man, Nastase also wrote several novels in French. In 1987, the French arm of CBS teamed him up with singer Christian Delagrange, who wrote and produced the jaw-droppingly awful “Globe Trotter Lover”, a cheesy ditty in which Nastase proclaims “l’amour c’est la France et je l’aime” and gives a few tips to would-be-lotharios. He even performed it on the prime-time French TV show Champs Elysées but the single thankfully sank without trace. Double Fault.

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