Mac gets the knife

In addition to his first-hand knowledge of tennis, John McEnroe has the gift of the gab, otherwise known as a big (or motor) mouth. This he has parlayed into a successful career as tennis commentator.

It’s not a laughing matter, John

For my money, he is the best there is, although a part of me misses our dear old Dan Maskell. Who can forget his long silences interspersed with the occasional “I say” and “A rather immature shot, that”?

McEnroe’s style is more effusive, reflecting his temperament and American Irishness. He talks a lot, which loquacity sometimes gets him in trouble. As it has this time.

But first, let’s set the backdrop to the story.

Emma Raducanu is an 18-year-old British tennis player ranked somewhere in the 300s. Her ancestry is typical of female British players.

She was born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother. The family moved to London when Emma was two, and she took up tennis soon thereafter.

Though she grew up in England, Emma pays homage to her eclectic heritage by claiming a fondness for Romanian food and Taiwanese TV series. Yet she never mentions ice hockey, leaving Canadians wondering where they went wrong.

This year Emma got a wild card into Wimbledon and used it brilliantly: she got to the fourth round, which is rare for someone playing only her second professional tournament.

Her achievement instantly served a useful reminder that professional sport seldom brings out the best in human nature. Thus, every time a fly-by-night sports star rises, our papers burst with hysterical enthusiasm liberally tinged with faux patriotism.

Emma, they said this time, is well on her way to making millions in endorsement contracts. The papers may well be right. She has everything going for her: solid game, good looks, effervescence, background that screams diversity. Did we say millions? Make it billions, especially if she gets into the quarters.

Boris Johnson sent little Emma a message saying the whole country was behind her, even though most of the country didn’t have a clue who she was. Quarters? That’s setting our sights way too low. She’s going to win the whole tournament, and then it’s “Arise, Dame Emma”.

She didn’t win the whole tournament, nor even the fourth round. Playing on a show court for the first time in her life, and carrying the weight of the entire United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on her slender shoulders, Emma dropped a close first set.

The poor girl then hyperventilated in the middle of the second. Experiencing dizziness and difficulty breathing, she had to quit after a medical timeout. Emma was then accompanied to the exit, holding her stomach and barely acknowledging the tumultuous ovation.

And then Mac got in trouble. I’ll quote his statement in full for you to figure out what was so offensive about it:

“I feel bad for Emma, I mean obviously it got – it appears it got a bit too much, as is understandable…

“How much can players handle? It makes you look at the guys that have been around and the girls for so long, how well they can handle it. 

“These guys that can keep their composure and the girls out there are absolutely amazing – so we have to appreciate the players that are able to do it so well and hopefully she will learn from this experience.”

This sounds like a sympathetic comment by a man who knows what it takes to play on Centre Court for the first time. Mac was Emma’s age when he made it to the Wimbledon semis, and he knows that mental strength is as essential to success as a big serve and an armour-piercing forehand.

Not the most insightful or original of comments, I’d say, but how was it offensive? I mean, Mac didn’t say the trouble with Emma was that she was a girl, and a Sino-Romanian one to boot. He didn’t even suggest she must have been having her period or suffering from PMT.

Had he said anything along those lines, public decapitation would have been the only fit punishment, everyone is in agreement on that. But he didn’t, so where’s the problem?

If you have to ask, you must have been living on some faraway planet outside our galaxy. Here on Planet Earth, any comment about a woman is borderline criminal if it falls short of describing her as a giant able to lead a bayonet charge over the top against a machinegun encasement.

The social media screamed with demands that McEnroe be summarily sacked, and the messages highlighted in all caps words like DISGUSTING and REVOLTING.

Harriet Minter, a London hack who specialises in such vital areas as women’s rights and general diversity, wrote: “Is there anything more annoying than a man telling a woman she’s not hurt she’s just emotional? No, no there isn’t. Please ask him to stop.”

Er, let me think. Is there? Actually, there is, and I’d be happy to give Harriet a long list of worse annoyances, with her close to the top. No, not a good idea. If I did that, I’d probably have my collar felt.

Chloe Hubbard, the executive editor of The Independent, a paper only marginally to the right of the Pravda of my youth, added practical advice to scathing criticism: “Feel like the producers could have given McEnroe a bit of a better mental health briefing ahead of him sharing ALL the views there.”

One wonders what such a briefing would contain. I got it: “John, you can talk about men’s mental pressures to your heart’s content, but when it comes to women, keep your big mouth shut.”

The gist is that women aren’t just as sturdy as men – they are much, infinitely, more so. Every woman, even a very young one, is a superwoman impervious to the same pressures that can paralyse all those male wimps. Hyperventilation? You say that H-word again, and…

Emma herself interrupted this imaginary monologue by posting a message in which she implicitly exonerated Mac from his slanderous comment about pressure having got to her. “I was playing the best tennis of my life in front of an amazing crowd this week and I think the whole experience caught up with me.”

The upshot? The message is clear enough, reminiscent of Miranda Rights: “You have the right to remain silent, but anything you say about women can and will be used against you in a court of public opinion – if not one of law.”

Let me tell you, the list of things one can’t say is getting longer than in the Soviet Union, circa 1970. You know, the totalitarian state known in some quarters as the ‘Empire of Evil’?

6 thoughts on “Mac gets the knife”

  1. “Is there anything more annoying than a man telling a woman she’s not hurt she’s just emotional?”

    It does sound as if Emma was overcome by emotions more than anything else. And that is understandable. Next time will be better.

  2. I did not see the event, but it sounds as if Mr. McEnroe made the proper call – as he has done repeatedly since leaving the court. Miss Raducanu is still a child, and as such is deserving of our sympathy. That said, choosing the life of a professional athlete one should expect a certain amount of attention and pressure – after all, that’s part of earning the enormous prize money (equal pay, as has been documented here).

    Athletes of both sexes are susceptible to pressure. Steve Sax was the second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, helping them to the World Series championship in 1988. Earlier in his career he struggled to make routine throws to first base. Golfer David Duval went from winning the British Open to obscurity after suffering “the yips” and not being able to putt. Singers sometimes forget the words to the national anthem when performing in front of a large crowd. They’re all human. McEnroe has been branded less than human for his remarks. This could make sense only in our dystopian world. (Oh! we fell just short of utopia! Keep trying.)

    At least by Miss Raducanu’s failure Britain was spared that “Arise, Dame Emma” scene. Q: What do Sir Francis Drake (naval war hero, circumnavigator) and Sir Andy Murray (tennis player) have in common? A: Three letters (also acceptable: NOTHING!)

  3. We’ll see how long it will it will take before he publicly apologies. It did not take long after he claimed (and probably rightly so) that Serena Williams would be seeded in the 700 if she were to play in the mens tournament. My solution; stop calling any sport, and I mean any, women or men sports. Let all compete in the same game and let us see the female athletes disappear from the arenas. Let us all see the utter stupidity. Who cares? I don’t. But women should.

  4. Don’t these shrill feminazis realise that McEnroe is a fellow lefty, generally sympathetic to their causes. Witness his childish and selfish stunt with Navratilova at the Australian open condemning Margaret Court. Both paid commentators no less!

  5. And let’s not forget the reaction to Boris Becker, whose unforgivable crime was to call a player’s partner pretty!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.