Wimbledon 2014: Let’s get rid of all the umpires, says John McEnroe... and he’s serious

He advocates players making line calls and challenging cheats to give game ‘a little edge’

Few players had more run-ins with umpires and line judges than John McEnroe. Now, on the eve of the tournament which featured some of his most notorious confrontations with officialdom, the veteran American is advocating the ultimate revenge. His latest plan to make tennis more appealing? “Do away with the umpires and linesmen completely.”

If you think McEnroe cannot be serious – and you are sometimes uncertain whether he has his tongue in cheek or not – it is clear that the former Wimbledon champion has thought through  the idea.

“You want a little edge,” McEnroe said. “If you had no umpires but you had a challenge system and the players called their own lines, all of a sudden things would get a whole lot edgier. Obviously it would have to be on every court. That goes without saying.

“You could challenge calls. If you thought the other guy was blatantly cheating you could challenge it. Then the fans would boo him and people would get way more into it. People would say: ‘See this guy? This guy is such a cheater.’

“It would be unbelievable for tennis, I promise you. The problem is, there’s no way in hell they’ll do it. But I guarantee you that tennis would be 30 per cent more interesting.”

He added: “You’d end up sometimes calling in balls that were out. Because I know as a kid that I would be mortified if someone said I was cheating. And it would be like you’d second-guess yourself.”

McEnroe, who commentates for BBC TV at Wimbledon and presents the phone-in programme 606 – or Six Love Six as it is pronounced for tennis purposes – on Radio 5 live, believes that tennis needs to widen its appeal.

“You can’t just stand on your heels and do nothing,” he said. “We’ve got to keep trying to do things, in my opinion, to grab fans.”

Another change he advocates is scrapping the pre-match warm-up. “Why the hell do players have to go hit a couple of balls with each other?” he asked. “They haven’t gone out and practised? Wouldn’t that make it interesting [if we abolished the warm-up]? Like, [we could see] who is the best starter. You would know that the first ball you hit is going to mean something. That to me is a great idea.”

McEnroe would also like to see an end to players being treated for cramp during matches. “That’s why you train for months and years,” he said. “Ivan Lendl would take great pride in seeing a cramping and exhausted opponent. You feel pretty proud of yourself because you’ve outlasted this guy and broken  him down.”

Any other pet hates? “High-fiving doubles players when their opponents miss returns,” McEnroe said. “That should be against the rules. I’m so sick and tired of everyone high-fiving no matter what happens. It should only be when something good happens.”

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