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Mac Is Back on Attack : McEnroe Shows He's Still Sharp on Verbal Volleys

July 16, 1986|GRAHAME L. JONES | Times Staff Writer

Living in Malibu has not mellowed John McEnroe.

Nor, it seems, has Tatum O'Neal, fatherhood or a six-month layoff from competitive tennis.

McEnroe might boast a California tan, but he still has a New York tone.

He had no sooner resurfaced Tuesday at a Forum press conference than he was at it again, delivering entertaining if bizarre opinions on all the favorite McEnroe subjects.

A synopsis:

--He could have won the Wimbledon singles title this year.

--He won't return to Wimbledon unless he is treated with more respect, especially by the British media.

--Champion Boris Becker isn't as good a player as people are making him out to be.

--Wimbledon should get rid of its grass surface.

--Politicians, not athletes, should be the ones being tested for drugs.

--Tennis needs John McEnroe to give it excitement.

This from a player who, with a perfectly straight face, claims that he has a new outlook on life since the birth of his son, Kevin, seven weeks ago.

Now, McEnroe says, he might even be "too nice."

Judge for yourself.

Here was McEnroe's reply to a question on whether he had missed playing Wimbledon last month:

"It was kind of a strange feeling. The good part of it was that watching it made me realize that I really still wanted to do it, that I could have been there and won that tournament if the circumstance had been different."

Instead, McEnroe decided to skip Wimbledon after nine straight appearances.

"It was something I needed to do," he said. "I needed to do it for a lot of reasons. For myself mostly, but also just to show where my priorities stand. That one tournament isn't the end of the world if you miss it. I was disappointed just because there's a chance I could have won it, but I was not disappointed (in missing) what I would have had to have gone through."

McEnroe was alluding to his celebrated and ongoing feud with the British media, but more on that later.

Asked if he intends playing at Wimbledon next year, McEnroe hedged his answer.

"I plan on going back there," he said. "I'd say next year there'd be a good chance. Hopefully, I showed them that . . . hopefully things will be a little bit different the next time. . . . Just in terms of the way I'm treated there and that they show me a little more respect. And if it doesn't work out that way, it's not the end of the world. I plan on playing full-time professional tennis, so that's why I assume that it would include that tournament, but it's certainly not a definite thing at this point."

What is definite is that Becker's success in winning the Wimbledon title in each of the last two years has gotten to McEnroe.

"People are building Becker up on a pedestal," he said. "He's 18 years old. The bottom line is that he can be had mentally. There's no question in my mind. It's just a matter of time.

"Whatever he (Becker) says is basically what (Manager Ion) Tiriac has told him to say. Tiriac is doing a good job for him. He's shielding him from the press, he's telling him exactly what he should be doing. I don't think people should be building him up to be something he's not.

"What he is is a great tennis player right now, and he's going to have to work hard to improve himself. It's going to take a lot for him mentally to keep it up. He's going to have to work really hard and be really shielded and be really strong mentally to keep it up for an extended period. I wish him the best of luck doing that.

"He's 18 years old. I've been through a lot more. I would love to be on an equal level with him and then let the mental part decide it. I don't think there'd be any contest.

"Wimbledon's tailor-made for him. He gets good press. He's shielded by the people that are surrounding him and his game is tailor-made. He's only won like two other tournaments besides Wimbledon and Queens in his whole career. I expect him to win more, but he's losing. He won two out of 20 tournaments from one Wimbledon to the next."

Having finished with Becker, McEnroe set about telling the All England Club at Wimbledon what to do about its century-old courts. In short, get rid of the grass.

"My recommendation--and I know people won't particularly like this--is that in the long run something should be done about the grass. The tennis is just too hit and miss. It's just a one-shot deal. It's not enough. I think in the next 20 years they should try to look at it more carefully.

"We only play one or two tournaments a year on grass. There's no way we can really get prepared. It would take a month or two of playing on it constantly to feel we can return the ball consistently and make passing shots. It's all like serve and miss and return and miss and serve and ace. There's very few spectators that can put up with that. The English happen to be great tennis fans; they can put up with that."

Better than McEnroe can put up with the gibes of the British media, apparently. His latest spat involved demanding--and receiving--a retraction from a newspaper that said McEnroe had been in a detoxification center.

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