Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Tennis lacks "colourful characters" says McEnroe

Commercialisation and the high stakes involved in modern day tennis circuit have combined to eliminate colourful personalities that once added drama and comic relief to the contests on courts, 20th century legend John McEnroe told a forum here Tuesday.

Former world number one and seven Grand Slam singles titles winner McEnroe said, "Commercialisation has changed perspectives. The personalities that added interest to the action on the courts have long gone. Yes, the characters are missing. The approach has changed since there is more money in the sport for this generation. The freedom, the joy and spontaneity is not evident," he said.

"I wish people embrace and encourage players like Rafael Nadal when they emote with a clenched fist or react loudly. Sport needs lively characters," said McEnroe known for sublime artistry on court as well as theatrical displays during his prime in the late 1970s and '80s.

McEnroe and two other world number one icons of the '70s era, Romanian Ilie Nastase, one of the five players in history to win more than 100 ATP professional titles (57 singles and 45 in doubles) and Swedish Bjorn Borg went down their memory lanes at the forum ''Stars on a Stool'', moderated by Andrew Castle and organised by Aspire4sport at the Aspire Dome.

The tennis legends, now past their 50s, gray and mellow, relieved their old world era of wooden racquets, gut strings, tight shorts and T-shirts, long side-burns and flowing manes narrating stories, incidents and anecdotes that punctuated their glittering careers to an audience, primarily comprising awe-struck fans who grew up watching their amazing exploits on court.

Borg, 54, had won 11 Grand Slam titles including five consecutive Wimbledon titles, a record shared with Roger Federer, in a total of 101 ATP titles when he suddenly quit international tennis in 1983 at the age of 26.

He had not only stunned tennis fans at large but also fellow rivals and friend McEnroe.

"Borg had told me he was quitting tennis in 1981 while we were relaxing in a hotel during a tournament," said 51-year-old McEnroe who retired in 1992.

"We didn't take him seriously since what many fans don't know that he (Borg) is actually a lot more fun off the court."

"It was matter of the life I was leading," said Borg, replying to the question he has been asked repeatedly over the years.

"I was giving in 110 per cent every day, week, month each year and playing to win every match and tournament. I was not motivated to do it any more, the travelling and the pressure of fans. I started to pull out of tournaments and finally quit."

"International sport is demanding, not just tennis," said 64-year-old Nastase who retired in 1984 at the age of 38.

"Everybody is retiring early these days. Things are different now as there are different kinds pressures."

On how they handled pressure then, McEnroe replied, "It is nice to have people who enjoy tennis, the officials on the circuit and fans too, but it is your family where one turns for support. Ultimately blood is thicker than water. I was also fortunate to have someone like Borg who took me under his wings early in my career."

The on court behaviour of the three stars was as different as chalk and cheese.

McEnroe was temperamental genius and known for letting his steam off on the umpires, often saying "you can't be serious''.

Nastase, too, was aggressive, but he often vent his frustration through humorous one-liners.

Borg was the opposite, cool and calm.

He neither reacted nor displayed his emotions on the court whether he won or lost a point or over a bad line call.

"Of course, I was full of emotions, we all have," said Borg about his ice-cool image on court.

"If you make a mistake, you get mad, but I would let my emotions out in the hotel with my coach, I took it out on him. We had a good relationship."

Asked a question on the role of new-age technology like Hawk Eye to improve the game's supervision, Nastase said, "It is definitely welcome. This is valid not only for tennis, but also for football and other games."

"Technology that can help the game should be put to use since it is all about the best player winning," said McEnroe who will soon start a tennis academy in New York.

On the comparison between wooden racquets which the trio used during their career and the graphite ones used now.

Nastase said, "The material of the racquet does not matter for men''s tennis so much. Definitely yes for ladies since its lighter. The most revolutionised material on the racquet is the string, we used those made out of gut."

On comparison between the capabilities of stars of different era, Nastase bluntly said, "It is stupid to compare players from different era. You cannot compare players like Rod Laver, Borg, Pete Sampras or Federer. This is true for all sports. I mean how can you compare Pele with Maradona? Each era has its stars you must appreciate them for the value they bring to sport."

Courtesy: PeninsulaQatar

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