McEnroe's goal is to revive interest in tennis

John McEnroe in the Pavilion at Villanova University for a World TeamTennis match in 2011. Photo by Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer
John McEnroe in the Pavilion at Villanova University for a World TeamTennis match in 2011. Photo by Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 26, 2013

John McEnroe is asked the same few questions all the time.

Who's the next great tennis star? Where will he or she come from? And when?

The former world No. 1 and winner of 17 major titles (singles and doubles) often gives the same response.

"It's definitely something that I wish I knew the answer to," McEnroe said before a World TeamTennis match at Villanova's Pavilion on Wednesday. "Somewhere, that person's out there. If you have any idea, please let me know."

McEnroe played a pair of matches for the New York Sportimes against the Freedoms, falling, 5-1, in mixed doubles and losing in men's doubles, 5-0.

The Freedoms beat the Sportimes (4-10) in their season finale, 20-11, to finish with a 5-9 record. Boston will play Thursday at Washington for the Eastern Conference championship, and Texas will visit Springfield in the West title match.

The absence of a rising teenage talent ready to start winning majors and supplant Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams worries McEnroe a bit. He expressed a few concerns about tennis' current state on Wednesday, mainly how a sport that has given him so much over a long, storied career doesn't attract as much interest as he believes it should.

"It helped me become the person I am now, and I'd like to try and keep it going here in a way," said McEnroe, who retired from the ATP tour at the end of 1992. "It doesn't have the same interest level. It doesn't seem like people are as into it as before.

"I'd like to change that."

Perhaps the sport's next icon could be 20-year-old Sloane Stephens, who has yet to reach a WTA Tour final but has made four semifinals. Or maybe that someone will attend the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York City, opened in 2010 as McEnroe's own attempt to get newcomers excited about tennis.

"Obviously, you have to have a passion for the game and you need to be willing to learn from your mistakes," McEnroe said. "That's easier to do when you're younger than older, so you have to take advantage of that time when you're eager to get back out there and try to improve."

The famously combative McEnroe still has that necessary passion at 54. While arguing an inconsequential point in his mixed-doubles match Wednesday, he barked at an official: "Let me guess. You didn't see that?"

But how exactly does he plan to ignite that same fire in new players?

"I don't know how much time we have," he said shortly before wrapping up a news conference. "That's a long answer."


Contact Mike Still at mstill@philly.com. Follow

on Twitter @MikeStill12.

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