John McEnroe on Wimbledon: 'We're champing at the bit for the tennis to begin!’

John McEnroe enjoys his commentary job at Wimbledon.
John McEnroe enjoys his commentary job at Wimbledon. (Image credit: BBC / Jonathan Ford)

John McEnroe can’t wait for the return of Wimbledon after its enforced year off. The tennis world is ready to go Wimbledon crazy again and the tournament’s former three-time champion is too!

"I’m absolutely buzzing," John McEnroe tells us on a Zoom call from his California home before he joins the BBC commentary team alongside Sue Barker. "I’m so looking forward to actually getting on a plane and coming to Britain. Being close to the court with a lot of excited spectators watching on too will be amazing, not only for me but for the players and tennis fans. We’re all champing at the bit for it to begin!"

The Wimbledon fortnight starts from this Monday, with limited crowds allowed into the grounds to cheer on their favorite players. So here are a few insights John McEnroe gave us during our call…

How do you see the Wimbledon 2021 Men’s Singles playing out?

John McEnroe says: "The top ones are the obvious ones, so Roger, Novak — that goes without saying. You’d have to look at Novak as the favorite coming in, although, with Roger, I think if he’s ever going to win another Grand Slam it will be at Wimbledon. The grass-court is more forgiving for his body and he knows so much about how to perform on it. Also, after his great exploits in the French Open, Tsitsipas is the guy that’s most likely to be making that breakthrough, and Medvedev, too, can be good on grass."

Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in 2017.

Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in 2017. (Image credit: AFLO/Press Association Images)

And how about the Women’s Singles?

John says: "It’s way more unpredictable at this stage, now Naomi Osaka isn't going to come. Simona Halep pulled out of the French Open with a calf problem, so it’s unknown if she’ll be 100 per cent. I always feel like when Serena Williams goes into an event, particularly Wimbledon, she’s almost like the favourite and if Halep’s not right you’d certainly say she’s got a better shot at getting the record Grand Slam she so desperately wants. It’s tough to call right now."

Naomi Osaka recently pulled out of the French Open after not waiting to talk to press, and now isn't coming to Wimbledon. What are your thoughts on what happened?

John says: "I haven’t spoken to Naomi that often, but when I have it’s obvious that she’s a pretty introverted and shy person. Certainly mental fragility is something that during this pandemic a lot of people have been experiencing and it’s an issue that has to be taken seriously. My concern would be that on some level it’s going to intensify the scrutiny for her. It’s a shame because she’s a tremendous player."

Naomi Osaka

John McEnroe describes Naomi Osaka as 'shy'. (Image credit: Getty)

In light of this, how much of a lonely game is tennis?

John says: "Tennis is an extremely lonely game. You feel extremely vulnerable and almost naked on the court at times, especially when things aren’t going well. I experienced times where it felt like it was all getting too much, and most players feel that. How do you think Murray feels or Henman when they’re getting scrutinised the way they were at Wimbledon? It’s not easy to overcome. Tennis can be incredibly rewarding but also incredibly difficult."

What’s your assessment of British players like Jo Konta and Andy Murray?

John says: "It seems like Jo Konta has lost some confidence, her form isn’t what it was. But she’s obviously going to have some crowd support, which could help. Even more unpredictable would be Andy Murray obviously. I mean it’s all about his physical health to me. If he could move the way he used to then he’d be top ten in the world and one of the main challengers. But that’s a big if. I didn’t even have hip problems as bad as him, but I experienced hip issues the last six or seven years that I played and I never totally overcame it. I felt it slowed me down and with the game being more physical and faster now you can even less afford to lose that little bit of speed." 

Wimbledon 2021 could be a tough one for Andy Murray.

Wimbledon 2021 could be a tough one for Andy Murray. (Image credit: Getty)

How do you find working with BBC host Sue Barker?

John says: "Sue Barker can work with anyone! She’s proven that over the years, not only at Wimbledon but when she does other things for the BBC. She’s like the consummate professional. She makes my life easier and hopefully I make hers a little easier. 

"I remember seeing her the first year I was at Wimbledon in 1977, which was when Virginia Wade won and Sue and l both lost in the semi-finals. We might have walked by each other then, but I’m sure I had my head down — I was 18, and it may be hard to believe but I was pretty shy back then and it was a bit overwhelming what took place that year for me. It changed my life in a big way. In a good way but a big way. Sue was at most of the big tournaments back then so we gradually got to know each other and I love working with her now."

Former player Sue Barker hosts the BBC's Wimbledon 2021 coverage.

Former player Sue Barker hosts the BBC's Wimbledon 2021 coverage. (Image credit: BBC)

John McEnroe

1977 Wimbledon semi final: an 18-year-old John McEnroe loses out to Jimmy Connors. (Image credit: Getty)

Finally, we’ve got to ask, when was the last time you said, ‘You cannot be serious!?’?

John says: "I did a commercial with Serena in a cameo role and they asked me to have one line, and I was like, let me guess which one! The funny part is that I said this once in my 15-year tennis career and I was fined for it. Now when I play on the champions tour I get fined if I don’t say it at least once! I don’t know if it’s ironic or sad, good or bad, or both!"

John McEnroe

John McEnroe's first Wimbledon triumph in 1981. (Image credit: PA)

Watching Wimbledon 2021

In the USA, ESPN will provide complete TV coverage of Wimbledon. ESPN remains available on every cable and satellite provider, and on every major streaming service. That includes YouTube TV, Hulu With Live TV, and Sling TV, among others.

If you're in the market for a new streaming service, we recommend taking a look at FuboTV. In addition to carrying ESPN and having a slate of channels that rivals any of the other options above, FuboTV also is comparable in terms of price. 

In the UK, the tournament can be watched on both BBC1, BBC2, and online with Sue Barker hosting and John McEnroe part of the commentary team on the BBC, radio and online. Wimbledon starts on Monday, June 28, and goes through to Sunday, July 11.

* Read more about John McEnroe's life and tennis career in his two autobiographies You Cannot Be Serious and But Seriously

Also read our chat with another tennis superstar right here: Billie Jean King on Wimbledon 2021: 'I think every generation gets better'

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.