John McEnroe has stood by his controversial comments about Emma Raducanu, where he implied she was not able to “handle it” at last year's Wimbledon, and added that he also struggled to deal with the pressure as a young player.
Seven-time major champion McEnroe drew heavy criticism last year during the Championships for his knee-jerk implication that Raducanu had crumbled under the pressure, after she retired from her fourth-round match on Centre Court due to breathing issues.
But just days before Wimbledon begins, he has reiterated that he does not regret making the comments about the US Open champion, and said they contributed to an important conversation around players' mental well-being.
“I wouldn't say anything different,” he told reporters. “I've never met Emma, I should add that. I'd like to at some point, obviously. I was just giving an educated guess as to what I thought was happening, based on 45 years of being around the professional game. It's not like she's the first person it's happened to. Especially with mental health coming more to the forefront. Naomi Osaka's had issues with mental health.
“When I was playing you were supposed to grit your teeth and bare it, tough it out and this type of stuff. Now it's becoming more of a discussion point, rightfully so. A lot of times for these young guys and girls, it's a lot to deal with when they're not prepared to. It will continue to happen. Simona Halep said she had the first panic attack of her life playing at the French [Open]. If anything, I was trying to be supportive of [Raducanu] in a way, without exactly knowing what was happening. And I felt bad for her. I was amazed that she was able to come out of that and suddenly win the US Open. That takes it to a whole other level. I'm on her side, just for the good of the game I'd like to see her be able to reach her potential.”
McEnroe, 63, was no stranger to the glare of the spotlight as a player, and said he could relate to the pressure Raducanu was experiencing during her shock emergence at Wimbledon last summer.
Ahead of the British tennis star's return on Monday, he likened the moment to his decision to skip the tournament in 1986 and 1987 – in part due to his mental health: “I try to be as honest as possible [in commentary]I will continue to try to do that. The sport's given me a lot and I try to… give free advice if they're willing to hear it. I went through stuff [as a player]I was overwhelmed at times.
“I didn't play Wimbledon for two years. I felt like it was too much for me. We don't sit and discuss that that often. Do I wish that I'd done that now? No, I wish I had played in a way. I gave up two opportunities to play… maybe some of it was stubbornness, some of it may have been stupidity, but some of it was because it was feeling like it was too much to handle.”
McEnroe also commented on how it will feel to cover Wimbledon next week without six-time major champion and fellow pundit Boris Becker alongside him.
‘It's a travesty just any way you look at it'
Becker was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison in April for hiding £2.5m worth of assets and loans to avoid paying debts. Last month he was moved to HMP Huntercombe in Oxfordshire and McEnroe said he hoped to visit him.
“Boris is a friend of mine, this is just horrible,” McEnroe said. “I don't know where he is. I think they moved him somewhere, I want to see him if I possibly can, if he's willing to see people or can. I just feel terrible.
“He's one of the great players that ever played the game. He's been going through a lot for a long time. He kept telling me it's going to be okay, you know, it's under control. That's Boris, he was just a very confident player on the court. But sometimes you're not necessarily a great investor, you don't take care of your money off the court as well… But I don't know if any of us anticipated it getting to this point honestly. It's a travesty just any way you look at it.”
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