Tennis : McEnroe’s Game Is Not as Good but He Says His Life Is Better

John McEnroe is back, sort of, and tennis should consider itself lucky for whatever kind of McEnroe it gets. The 29-year-old left-hander is continuing the 1988 version of his comeback on the Grand Prix circuit, but it’s still not exactly the kind of tennis that McEnroe is capable of playing.

There seems to be general agreement that McEnroe is certainly not lacking in ability. He practices less than any other player on the circuit. If ability isn’t the problem, what is? Perhaps it’s the area above his shoulders, surrounded by the purple or red bandannas he wears to corral his thinning hair.

Andre Agassi, McEnroe’s Davis Cup teammate, thinks McEnroe simply doesn’t want it as badly as he did before.

“I just don’t see that desire there,” Agassi said. “He can do more with the ball than any player out there in the world. And he has more potential than probably any player in the world. In his time, he was probably the most talented and dominant player there was.


“I almost feel like going out on a limb and saying he can do that again. I just don’t know what he’s thinking now. Sometimes I wonder if he does.

“If he gets his desire back, maybe he could do it. It just seems like on the points that really matter, it’s just not the same attitude.”

McEnroe agrees with Agassi. But he does not apologize for his waning desire. If his tennis is not as good as it was, his life is better, McEnroe said. He admits that his marriage to actress Tatum O’Neal and the birth of sons Kevin John and Sean Timothy have altered his priorities.

“I don’t think the desire to win is quite the same as it was the first 8 years or so on the circuit, but that comes also with being in tune with your competitive edge and some confidence,” he said. “I feel there’s going to be a time when the other improvements in my life will make up for the slight loss in intensity level because I was a very intense player for a lot of years, and it’s very difficult to keep that up.”


Break point: Agassi said he’s not suffering from tennis burnout, but he is glad that his 1988 commitments are growing fewer so he can take a short break. After losing to Mikael Pernfors in the Volvo/Los Angeles final, Agassi spent a week relaxing at home in Las Vegas, but he left this weekend for a tournament in Basel, Switzerland.

After that, Agassi said, he doesn’t plan to play again until the Nabisco Masters, Nov. 28, at Madison Square Garden in New York. In 2 years, Agassi’s world ranking has jumped from 91 to 25 to 4, but getting it there this year has made him feel real pressure for the first time, he said.

“This is the toughest year,” he said. “I’ve committed to so many events and I’ve done so much and it’s so new that you want to do more. As soon as I get through this year, it’ll be a big sense of relief. I can go into next year with a whole refreshed body and mind-type thing and know what to expect more. This year, everybody for the first time (was) pulling at (me) from every angle. It gets really tough after a while.”

In 1989, Agassi said, he won’t play more than 3 or 4 weeks straight without taking a week off.

This year, from the beginning of the year through the French Open, a period of 17 weeks, Agassi spent 5 days at home.

The players’ union wants to form its own tour. The International Tennis Federation, part of the existing tour format, wants the status quo. What does a sponsor think? After all, the sponsors put up the prize money.

Volvo North America, which has spent $30 million promoting professional tennis since 1973, is solidly behind the Assn. of Tennis Professionals’ plan to restructure the men’s tennis tour.

Volvo is the title sponsor of six Grand Prix events and a presenting sponsor of two others. Last year, its budget was $3.5 million. Simply put, the sponsor wants to protect its investment in tennis.


Bill Mergler, director of corporate promotions for Volvo North America, said the number of tennis enthusiasts in the United States has dropped. In addition, television ratings of tennis among adults dropped 17% in 1987, the largest decrease in sports on television.

“For business to continue being interested in sponsoring men’s professional tennis, these deteriorating trends must be reversed,” said Bjorn Ahlstrom, president and CEO of Volvo. “The ATP plan may be the beginning.”

Or as Mergler put it: “There are too many self-serving interests out there. Although the ATP hasn’t come out in detail on its plan, often calamity meets opportunity. Now, if the ATP is smart enough to listen to business and to make changes, then it has a chance to all work out for the best.”

Tennis Notes

The Prudential-Bache Grand Champions for 12 of the top over-35 men players, will be held Nov. 3-6 at Rancho San Clemente Tennis and Fitness Club. . . . Defending champions Larry Barnett of Los Angeles and Helen Park Bates of Pasadena are singles entries in the 102nd Southern California Sectional Tennis Championships at the Racquet Centre of Universal City, Oct. 7-16. . . . Harbortown Marina Resort in Ventura has named Mitchell W. Hodge tennis pro. . . . Billie Jean King and Rene LaCoste are among those who will be inducted into the Senior Tennis Hall of Fame, Nov. 12, in Minneapolis.