After Emma Raducanu, her chest heaving and struggling to breathe, retired during the fourth round at Wimbledon last year John McEnroe gave his view on what was unfolding.
This being the 2020s, his verdict that the occasion had got ‘a little bit too much for her’ ignited a firestorm on social media. Accusations flew back and forth that he had been insensitive in her hour of distress.
Nearly 12 months on, McEnroe has no regrets about his instant judgment (which the following day was pretty much endorsed by Raducanu herself).
John McEnroe stood by his comments about Emma Raducanu’s mental strength at Wimbledon
‘I wouldn’t say anything different,’ he says, on reflection. ‘I was just giving an educated guess as to what I thought was happening, based on 40 or 45 years being around the professional game.’
In the primetime maelstrom that ensued, it was overlooked that McEnroe is not only the father of four girls but an East Coast liberal to his fingertips.
While many viewers found the scenes on Court One somewhat shocking, like many seasoned tennis observers he had witnessed something similar numerous times before. ‘It happens all the time,’ McEnroe adds. ‘It’s not like she’s the first person it’s happened to, this has been going on as far back as when I was playing.
‘You were supposed to grit your teeth and bear it and tough it out and this type of stuff. Now it’s becoming more of a discussion point, and rightfully so.
The then 18-year-old retired from her last-16 tie at SW19 in 2021 due to breathing difficulties
‘A lot of times for these young guys and girls, it’s a lot to deal with. Simona Halep (2019 Wimbledon champion) said she had the first panic attack of her life playing at the French Open. So this is something that’s being discussed more and more. If anything I was trying to be supportive of her (Emma). I was overwhelmed at times, I didn’t play Wimbledon for two years. I try to be as honest as possible and I will continue to try to do that.’
McEnroe may not be the best informed TV analyst, or have the deepest current knowledge, but he never commits the ultimate sin of being anodyne.
With Raducanu’s fitness uncertain for next week’s Championships he has sympathy for her, while being baffled by her lack of a full-time coach: ‘I’ve noticed at my tennis academy that a lot of these parents, they feel like they should coach their daughter or son, even if it appears that they don’t have much experience in it.
‘She’s a kid. She’s trying to grow up in front of the world and in front of people. And that can be difficult. It (the US Open win) happened so quickly for her. That just brings triple like what was happening at Wimbledon.’
However, Raducanu went on to impress at US Open – ultimately being crowned the champion
Now 63, McEnroe casts his eye over what is set to be an unusual Wimbledon in that there will be no ranking points on offer. He does not approve either of Wimbledon’s decision to ban individual Russian and Belarusian players, nor of the tours’ response to strip its ranking status in retaliation.
Somehow tennis’s hapless leaders managed to land themselves with a lose-lose situation. ‘It’s laughable, you know, that you’re going to penalise someone if they win,’ he says. ‘Like Djokovic — this guy has been up against it. To get deported out of Australia, to go to Wimbledon and then you work and get no points if you win it again. You drop spots in the rankings, it just seems crazy.’
Another thing he finds extraordinary is the Serb’s refusal to get vaccinated, which may yet keep him out of the US Open unless legislation changes: ‘He made this decision and he’s going to have to live with it. And he seems hell-bent on that.’
Djokovic’s expulsion from Melbourne is just one of several seismic events that have happened in tennis these past 12 months.
Raducanu (right) is currently preparing to make her return to Wimbledon next week
Among the others has been the imprisonment of Boris Becker for manipulating his assets when facing bankruptcy. Although McEnroe does not go into the implications for victims of this, he is clearly devastated for his former rival and longtime colleague in the commentary box.
‘Boris is a friend of mine, this is just horrible,’ he says. ‘I want to see him if I possibly can, if he’s willing to see people. I just feel terrible, he’s been going through a lot for a long time.
‘He kept telling me it’s going to be OK, it’s under control. You know, that’s Boris, he was a very confident player on the court.
‘But sometimes you’re not necessarily a great investor. And it seems like there were some people around him that weren’t helping a whole lot.
‘Obviously he didn’t (expect the minimum 15-month sentence) either, because from what I understand he was planning on doing some type of press conference a couple of days after the decision was made.’
Wimbledon will go on without ranking points, Russians and Becker. More happily, it appears likely that Andy Murray will have recovered sufficiently from a stomach pull to be able to play.
McEnroe believes Andy Murray is a serious contender to pull off his third Grand Slam title
Given that many present-day players view grass with suspicion, McEnroe firmly believes that the Scot, a miraculous example of modern medicine, will be a genuine threat.
‘I absolutely do,’ McEnroe insists. ‘If he’s fit, I believe he is one of the contenders. I actually believe he’d be one of a handful of guys who could win it. He’s got loads of experience and he knows how to play better than almost anyone on that surface.
‘He’s looking at Rafa Nadal and Novak, he’s got to be thinking he’s going to have one last hurrah, I think that’s entirely conceivable. I’m amazed that he’s moving as well as he is.
‘If you’ve got a metal hip, that would tell me that you wouldn’t move as well, but I noticed a definite improvement this year.’
And then there is the reunion with coach Ivan Lendl: ‘I saw Ivan recently, I don’t think he’d do it if he didn’t believe Andy could win another one, I honestly don’t believe he would be part of this.
‘So it’s sort of exciting because it puts Andy back in the mix, which I think he deserves.’
John McEnroe is part of the BBC’s Wimbledon 2022 line-up. Catch all the action across BBC TV, radio and online from Monday June 27.