MARK COATNEY: But say what you like about John McEnroe (and the New York Post certainly likes to say a lot), the guy knows his tennis, and respects the game, if not its line judges. He's almost singlehandedly kept hope alive for the U.S. Davis Cup team as a player and now captain, shaming players such as Pete Sampras into giving something back to the old US of A.
More important, he's a fan, a guy who still gets excited about the men's game (half of Mac's Telegraph piece, the half the Post doesn't talk about, is a rave review of rising star Marat Safin) and defends it against what he sees is a lack of respect from Serena Williams when she says she wants to play in some men's tournaments. Could Serena or Venus, as good as they are, compete on the men's tour? Probably not, and there's nothing wrong with McEnroe saying as much. It's not bragging if you can back it up, sure, but a) we're not sure that they can and b) as McEnroe rightly points out, tennis is so much better when players do their talking with those ridiculous oversize graphite rackets.
JESSICA REAVES True, McEnroe deserves, as they like to say, his props for proving himself a great tennis player time and again. Unfortunately, he's also proven himself a giant jackass time and again. And that little character flaw, like it or not, is what the media will glom on to look around: We've got plenty of athletes clogging up our front pages, and far too few great human beings.
The problem with Mac's latest outburst is not that it's inherently illogical; after all, the Williams sisters have never positioned themselves as pillars of humility. But to take issue with Serena and Venus because they're young, inexperienced and cocky is ridiculous: Why single them out? We're barraged with the braggadocio of a whole new crop of infant athletes in all sports who've never won anything, let alone multiple Grand Slam events. And when you take Mac's most recent criticism in context with his repeated slams against women tennis players, you get a pretty ugly picture of a frustrated, cranky old man.
Of course McEnroe is bitter about the rise of the Williams sisters: They don't behave the way he wants them to, and they're probably a hell of lot better players now than he was at their age. Mac's arrogance, tinged with no small dose of misogyny, is more testimony to the fact that his day has passed than of anything that's wrong with the Williamses. Sure, their dad is a blowhard, and his motivation for pushing them so hard is questionable at best, but in the end he's proud of his girls. And as far as most American tennis fans are concerned, he's got good reason: Venus and Serena have stormed the white world of tennis with a bracing vengeance. And they play clean, hard games: No tantrums, cursing or racket throwing.