John McEnroe: You Ask The Questions

You're looking for a young British tennis player who can win at Wimbledon - have you found one yet? And can you be serious?
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The Independent Online

John McEnroe was born on a military base in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1959 to American parents, but grew up in New York. In 1977, he won his first tennis title: the mixed doubles at the French Open. He went on to win four US Opens and three Wimbledon championships between 1979 and 1984 - the most famous being in 1981, the year he first beat the title holder, Bjorn Borg. Known as much for his tantrums as his number one ranking, McEnroe earned the nickname "Superbrat". Since retiring from professional tennis, he has been a sports commentator on NBC and CBS and the presenter of a BBC quiz show, The Chair in 2002. He now lives in New York with his second wife, the singer Patty Smyth, whom he married in 1997, and six children.

John McEnroe was born on a military base in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1959 to American parents, but grew up in New York. In 1977, he won his first tennis title: the mixed doubles at the French Open. He went on to win four US Opens and three Wimbledon championships between 1979 and 1984 - the most famous being in 1981, the year he first beat the title holder, Bjorn Borg. Known as much for his tantrums as his number one ranking, McEnroe earned the nickname "Superbrat". Since retiring from professional tennis, he has been a sports commentator on NBC and CBS and the presenter of a BBC quiz show, The Chair in 2002. He now lives in New York with his second wife, the singer Patty Smyth, whom he married in 1997, and six children.

What five things should everyone do before they die?
Anna Sexton, by e-mail

Let's see: play music; be involved in sport; appreciate the arts; enjoy a nice beer; and love a woman and hope that it's reciprocated. Actually, forget the beer. The most important thing of all is to have children, because that puts everything else in perspective. I've done all those things, so I guess I've been lucky. All in all, it's been a pretty wild ride, but a good one.

Did you deserve "Superbrat"?
Liz Jenkins, Godalming

Oh, I wouldn't say so. There's no doubt that there were tantrums, but "Superbrat" was just one of those names that looked good on the back page of the newspaper - short and not sweet. In time, it became a monster that I couldn't control and it still hasn't really died completely.

We needed an American to kick-start Britain's Olympic bid. We need a Swede to make the England football team win. And I hear you're leading the search for a Brit who can win Wimbledon. What's wrong with us?
Phil Carter, Salford

I wouldn't be that sweeping about it. First of all, the Swede hasn't won the World Cup for you yet. There's no reason why the British can't be winners again. Who knows where we would've been in the Second World War without the British? I would never say that you're a hopeless case. Even the law of averages dictates that sooner or later you'll have some success.

Who are the greatest rock band of all time?
Charlene Hathaway, Bedford

I would have to go with Led Zeppelin. They were my favourite band when I was growing up. The first time I saw them live was in 1975 in Madison Square Gardens. But, funnily enough, I remember that they played their songs a little differently and, being naïve, I was like, "Why doesn't it sound exactly like the record?" So, I did enjoy it, but maybe I was a little hyper-critical. I'm a perfectionist, I guess, and that's probably a good example of that trait.

You've said that your kids have changed you. In what way?
Ben Patton, by e-mail

They've made me a more patient person. They've kept my feet on the ground, my priorities in order and, in general, made me a better person. There's nothing more exhilarating and also frustrating than being a parent, but I'd like to think I'm a good one.

Who will win Wimbledon this year?
Bob Shackleton, Southampton

Roger Federer. He won last year. He's the best all-round tennis player. The odds of Tim Henman winning Wimbledon drop lower every year, but he probably played the best tennis of his career on a different surface to grass last week at the French Open.

Have you ever had any secret superstitions - like wearing the same pair of socks or underpants for a whole tournament?
Adam Saint-Pierre, Aberdeen

Nothing serious. My superstitions were more dumb than crazy. And they'd change from time to time. Sometimes, before I served, I'd make sure I walked on the white lines of the tennis court. And before I returned, I'd make sure I didn't walk on the lines. But I wouldn't worry if I didn't do it. It was almost just to keep my mind from going off on a tangent just before I served.

Early on, I did have lucky pairs of socks. At times I'd mismatch socks for luck and at times wear the same socks. But it'd become a pretty smelly situation, so either way, it couldn't go on for long. Even now, I switch around little superstitions. For example, sometimes I might wash my feet a couple of times before a match and, if things go well, I carry on doing it.

Is it important to be a good loser?
Chris Monaghan, Belfast

Yes. It's better to have gone out there and failed than not to have tried at all. Believe it or not, I always thought I was a good loser. It depends on your definition. I would say that a good loser is someone who doesn't try to make excuses about why they lost. I always felt I gave credit when credit was due. Obviously, if you've ever watched me play tennis, you know that I don't believe in covering up my emotions on court.

Who are you going to vote for in the US Presidential election?
Ruth Tomlinson, Stockton

John Kerry. I think we're in desperate need of a change. I travel a fair amount outside the United States and I'm concerned about the way we are viewed in the rest of the world. Nobody had come up to me and said, "You ugly American", but then I'm not hanging around in Pakistan. I wish I knew enough about the Iraq war to be able to know what the right thing to do is, but if someone said to me today, "You have do decide what to do", I would pull the troops out.

What is your favourite memory of Bjorn Borg during your heyday?
Christine Fricker, Norwich

The great final we played in 1980 at Wimbledon - that's the match that everyone comes up to talk to me about. Of course, it's the tie-breaker at the end of the fourth set where it see-sawed back and forth that really sticks in my mind. I won it 18-16 to make it two sets all, but then lost the final set 6-8. I felt like I was part of something special that day - and I really thought I was going to win. I think that match showed that I could be a good loser. In fact, even though I lost that match, I didn't feel like a loser.

Would you consider coming to live in Britain? If so, where would you like to set up home?
Monica Brightwell, Cambridge

I would certainly consider it and, if I did, I would probably have to live in London. The language is one incentive - I don't speak another. But, I'm an American and I think America's the greatest country in the world so I don't think there's anything that Britain does better than us. What I'm saying is, I could live in Britain.

If all the world's art works - including sculptures - were somehow about to be destroyed in a fire and you could save just one, which would you choose?
Joe Mullaney, Redruth

Guernica by Picasso, because its message is so strong, and especially relevant now with the difficulties in Iraq. With that painting, Picasso summed up the hellishness of war really well.

Professional sports people are overpaid prima donnas, lavished with respect and adulation they don't deserve and paid far too much money for hitting a rubber ball over a net (in the case of tennis), while their talents could be better used to do some good in the world. Please discuss.
Richard Jones, West London

I don't disagree with that at all. That's just the way our society is. Why are sportsmen overpaid and teachers, firemen and policemen underpaid? I don't have an answer to that. But people do need to let go and sport is a way of doing that. Certainly, it's a great way to make a living - I don't even consider it a job.

I have thought of using my talents in a different way by becoming a politician - I thought I could bring an honesty to politics. But I realised pretty quickly that it's a dirty job - the closer I looked at it, the uglier it got. I haven't totally discounted becoming a politician, but it's highly unlikely. And, fortunately for the United States of America, I was born in West Germany, so I can't become President.

Can you be serious?
Damien Truman, by e-mail

I can be. I'm serious about being a good husband and parent. But I prefer not to take myself too seriously in this crazy world we live in.

Could the Williams sisters beat you at tennis?
Arthur Hackett, London

I believe I could beat them - playing them either individually or at the same time. In fact, it would probably be easier playing them together because they'd confuse each other. The Williams sisters have said they think they can beat men and that they're bored in the women's game, but they haven't come through on it. It's true that in most tennis tournaments, women players receive less prize money than men, but they are by far the best paid women athletes.

The Williams sisters make 50 times what female soccer players make. If I were them, I would thank my lucky stars that Billie-Jean King came around and made it possible for them.

I understand you're looking for a British player who can win Wimbledon on day. Have you found one yet?
Kirsty Taylor, by e-mail

Well, I wouldn't say we'd found one yet, but I think we're on the right track. A Brit hasn't won Wimbledon for 66 years now and it becomes more difficult every year. The problem is that in Britain losing well has been considered as important, if not more so, than going all out to win - the opposite of what Americans are told.

John McEnroe is leading Ariel Tennis Ace, a campaign to find the next potential British tennis champion. For more information, visit www.ariel.co.uk.

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