John McEnroe did not go so far as to repeat Ernests Gulbis' assertion that the world's top four men are boring, but the veteran American said here at the French Open that the modern game would benefit if the leading players had a less friendly relationship and showed more emotion on court. McEnroe said he would like to see players "going at it a little more viciously" in the way that he used to lock horns with Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.
Gulbis, the current world No 40, had complained in a newspaper interview published 24 hours earlier about the squeaky-clean nature of modern tennis and in particular about how "boring" the top players are, especially in their interviews. He singled out Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray, who admitted in a magazine interview that his own public pronouncements were "fairly boring".
McEnroe pointed out that for all the brilliant tennis served up by today's leading men, the public did not know enough about their characters. "It seems like there's got to be a way to grab the fans more," McEnroe said. "We are doing reasonably well in Europe, where the sport seems on a solid footing, but not having a top American, people aren't grabbed by it. They respect what they're seeing and look in awe in a way. There's no question about the athleticism and the shot-making, but they don't see a great deal of difference in the players. They don't know much about the players. I'm not sure exactly what people know about Andy Murray in Great Britain but I don't think people know much about him in the States."
McEnroe, who will be part of the BBC's commentary team at Wimbledon next month, said that with so many other options for the viewing public today, modern tennis could learn from the past. "I don't see it the way it was when it bubbled over between me and Connors or Lendl, but I got along fine with [Bjorn] Borg and he was my greatest rival, so it doesn't mean you have to not like each other. But it does seem like you don't see that aspect of it out there very often, if at all."
Federer was asked by Swiss journalists here what he thought of Gulbis' comments. The world No 3 said it was "nice that we treat each other with respect", but he admitted "our interviews are not always the most exciting", which he blamed on having to speak at so many press conferences.
Murray, meanwhile, admitted in an interview published in GQ: "Over the years I have found it difficult to open up and be a bundle of laughs in press conferences or interviews. I always try to give honest answers, but they are fairly boring, so I don't have to deal with the aftermath of any scandals. To tell jokes and be fun all the time, that's not actually very hard to do. If you are going to be truthful and tell things like they are, that is much harder."
Djokovic said it was good to have "very respectful and healthy relationships". He agreed that "maybe we are lacking more enthusiasm and maybe more entertainment" but stressed: "It's tough because it's such a demanding sport now physically, mentally, emotionally. Every day you're on the court. The season is very long. The whole year you need to be very committed to what you do."
The world No 1 was one of the few players to complete a match on a day when rain caused repeated interruptions. Djokovic swept aside Guido Pella, winning 6-2, 6-0, 6-2 in just an hour and 26 minutes to earn a mouth-watering encounter with Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. The talented 22-year-old, who beat Djokovic in Madrid earlier this month, beat Lucas Pouille 6-1, 7-6, 6-1. Li Na, a former champion here, went down 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but Victoria Azarenka, the No 3 seed, overcame a first-set wobble, in which she lost four games in a row, to beat Annika Beck 6-4, 6-3.
Colin Fleming and Jonny Marray lost to Feliciano Lopez and Andre Sa in the doubles, while Heather Watson and her Ukrainian partner, Irina Buryachok, went down to Oksana Kalashnikova and Alicja Rosolska. Britain's Dominic Inglot and the Filipino Treat Huey knocked out Tobias Kamke and Florian Mayer.
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