Aug. 31, 2009— -- With the start of the U.S. Open today, we thought it might be a good time to check in with one of the sport's greatest stars to see what he thinks about tennis today.
"I came in at a great time, in the late '70s, early '80s," he said. "I don't want to say a golden age. I'm probably a little biased but it seemed like a great time."
While tennis has had some rough years since then, McEnroe thinks the sport is "on an upswing" that needs to be capitalized on.
"There have been three great Wimbledon finals in a row, maybe the greatest match ever played last year," he said. "I think a lot of non-tennis fans checked in."
McEnroe said he thinks there is an opportunity now to get more tennis spectators and more people out on the courts playing themselves.
"We have to do a better job of marketing the game and getting people to sort of get to know these players, particularly the non-American ones," he said. "You have to push out because 25 or 30 years ago, if you had had told me that golf would get much better ratings or be on [TV] more often than tennis, I would have laughed at you."
Even more upsetting: "Poker is on [TV] four times as much as tennis.
"We were being reactive instead of proactive, just standing and waiting for something to happen instead of doing something about it," McEnroe said. "We need to get out there and be talking it up a lot more."
McEnroe has his list of things he would change in the sport, starting with the schedule. He said the "Davis Cup seems to be like an afterthought" and that more thought needs to be put into coordinating tournaments with the Olympics.
McEnroe: Too Late for Wooden Tennis Rackets
McEnroe is a fan of wooden rackets, but acknowledges that it "is probably too late at this point to change."
While singles tennis might be hot, McEnroe said that "doubles needs to be addressed on some level. There doesn't seem to be like a whole lot going on there."
To get children interested in tennis at a younger age, he suggests smaller courts. Baseball and football players start out on smaller fields, he argues, so why shouldn't tennis players.
"I think if we could build smaller courts and get more people playing, there would, perhaps, be increased emphasis on being able to hit all shots, like volleys, for example, which you don't do because they are intimidating," McEnroe said.
Finally, there is the much-contested issue of grunting. Many players and fans call it a distraction while some players say it is a necessary tool to help them stay focused.
"I think it's definitely a distraction but, obviously, people feel they need it in some cases but it's gotten way out of hand, in my opinion," McEnroe said. "It's one thing if an old guy like myself is grunting a bit but it's different when you see a 16- or 18-year-old. It seems sort of crazy. You can barely hear yourself think at times."
So how do you rein it in?
"I don't know how to do that," he said, "but I'd like to think it should be."