1 July 2009
John McEnroe has an amazing effect on me when I hear him communicating on his specialist subject - that is, despite having limited interest in tennis, I'm transfixed.
To be able to entrance a listener by your very charisma or passion is an exceptional gift to possess. In this Wimbledon fortnight, McEnroe is, as usual, more enthralling than a good measure of the tennis he is commentating upon. Replicating his demeanour as a player, he gets into the listener's ear by sheer force of personality, helped further by his own immense reputation as a player and his naturally brash Americanism.
I like tennis and I try to keep up with what is going on with the sport through most of the year, but I can't say I'm obsessed by it. However, listening to this once fantastic player now aiming his competitive belligerence from within the commentary box is brilliant. Communication is a rare and appreciable gift, and as someone who purports to communicate for a living but knows his limits, I am nothing but admiring.
Hearing McEnroe on BBC Radio 5 Live's tennis version of 6-0-6 is also brilliant, just for the way he quickly gets tired of dim callers suggesting that Andy Murray is incapable of being loved by the public because he is moody and Scottish, or when folk ring up to ask him - yet again - about his tie-break against Borg in 1980. He has Tim Henman alongside him, trying valiantly to get a word in but being all English gentleman about it, like McEnroe apeing his playing demeanour within his new broadcasting career. Henman is evidently overawed but he is trying harder to get his point stamped down, something he failed to manage last year due to his raw nerves and being so obviously awestruck by having McEnroe with him.
There are ex-cricketers - David Gower and Nasser Hussain especially - who now have the gravitas as commentators that they possessed as players, but in other sports (especially football, which is overflowing with charmless ex-pros who have nothing to say in case they offend their mates), they seem to be very scarce. Given that McEnroe is also working for American networks while in London, the BBC - and we - should feel fortunate to have him.
There are people who are barely bothered by tennis but watch Wimbledon, and equally there are people who like tennis but dislike much of what Wimbledon represents. McEnroe has that rare ability to appeal to even the most fierce doubters of sport or event and even the most tedious of encounters is rendered watchable by his presence.