In an extensive interview ahead of the Australian Open, McEnroe spoke openly about - among other things - his favourites for the men's and women's titles in Melbourne and why Kyrgios is such a frustrating talent.
Q: If we exclude the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic trio, who is your favourite to win the men's title? Is it a young man like Zverev or Tsitsipas, or is it someone like Cilic or Del Potro?
McEnroe: "For me, the Australian Open is the most unpredictable because you don’t know, for example, the health of players. Nadal is a question-mark. Murray, Wawrinka – the guys who have missed a lot of tennis – are question marks. Then you look at the new guys – for me, one of these new guys will break through this year I think."
Q: Why do the big three continue to dominate at the Majors?
"I believe there will be a changing of the guard this year. Whether it’s a Zverev, or one of the guys I mentioned like Khachanov or Tsitsipas, you are going to see them do something big – hopefully that will be the big talking point rather the talk about the administrators within the game.
"Novak Djokovic has had great success in Australia, he’s won it six times, and the way he finished last year it’s hard not to say it’ll be him. Roger Federer has positioned himself to have a good run. It’s hard to pick."
Q: Will there be a changing of the guard in 2019?
"It wouldn’t surprise me if Djokovic won a major or two. It wouldn’t surprise me at all, but I believe this year will be the year that you are going to see one of these young kids break through. More so than the other veteran players in my opinion. Kevin Anderson had a great run, he got to the final at Wimbledon, he has had some great results but it’s hard to keep that up.
"Cilic has some big results behind him, but for me it’s up to the younger players to realise they are better than those players. Someone like Grigor Dimitrov was a player who we felt last year would finally make the break-through but it looked like the pressure got to him and he just became too brittle. Now he has hired Agassi hopefully that will help though he help but he has dropped in the rankings.
"The door is open, if you look at the rankings, for one of those players to break through. You have Zverev at four, Khachanov at 11, Tsitipas is around that place in the rankings. You have Shapavalov in the 20s, Coric is in the low teens, so you have a lot of players positioned to make a big breakthrough.
"So yes, I believe there will be a changing of the guard this year. Whether it’s a Zverev, or one of the guys I mentioned like Khachanov or Tsitsipas, you are going to see them do something big – hopefully that will be the big talking point rather the talk about the administrators within the game."
Q: Do you think Nick Kyrgios can still be considered a contender for a Slam?
"At the moment, for him, unless he’s able to figure out a way to enjoy the game more, be happy that he’s a professional tennis player, trains as he needs to, and compete then he’s not going to be able to go all the way. I mean he has the potential.
He is the most talented guy I have seen in perhaps 10 years on the court because of his tennis ability. But tennis ability is only part of it.
"There’s also the training, the mental health, the mental toughness, your will to win, your ability to travel – all of these factors come into it."
Q: How do you see the women’s draw panning out?
"The women’s side is even more unpredictable than the men! I don’t know what it is, but even when a tournament is unpredictable it’s hard for me not to pick Serena Williams. You don’t know what has happened since the US Open, she hasn’t played, but she has been training – looks to be in good shape, and if I had to pick one person, it would be hard for me NOT to pick Serena Williams. The other players are too unpredictable – to me there are 15 players that could win it on the women’s side.
"Serena will get a lot of support in Australia as people want to see her. People don’t know how long she’s going to play, she is as tough mentally as anyone I’ve seen on the court, she is one of the only players I have ever seen that is able to take an extensive amount of time then be able to win the big one – that’s extremely difficult to be able to do. It’s very, very rare."
Q: Why is it becoming rarer for the teenage women’s players to break through?
"Overall, I find it very difficult to know. For the women, I think it is more difficult to predict to make that breakthrough at a young age. So then you start to look at the players like Halep and Wozniacki, players that have been around. To me, there is twice as many women who can win a Grand Slam than the men. That makes it more unpredictable to know what is going to happen next.
"To me, Sloane Stephens made a big breakthrough and showed that she knew how to go all the way in a Major. But then she should have won the French Open… and she’s had a rollercoaster ride. Maybe that’s just the way it is with the women, there isn’t that much separation between the players which makes it more difficult to predict who will be consistent enough of the time to win a Grand Slam."
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