,KING OF PRUSSIA -- John McEnroe proved long ago that grown men pout. Nine days ago, he proved that grown men can also come darn close to shedding a tear over something that isn't sad in the least bit.
Monday he proved that he still whole-heartedly cares about the sport of tennis, its fans and its future.
Prior to taking the court for the New York Sportimes of World Team Tennis in the team's match with the Philadelphia Freedoms in the parking lot of the King of Prussia Mall, the tennis legend held court in front of reporters, fans and random passers-by heading in and out of Bloomingdale's.
It didn't take McEnroe long to spark up the glowing, sarcastic personality that had nearly as much to do with his popularity as his playing skills did. Upon taking his seat in the department store's atrium, he commented about the heat and asked those in attendance if store employees "could make it any hotter in here?"
Then he went on about the state of the game and the match that he hopes raises the level of interest in the sport.
"The match was the greatest I have ever watched," he said, referring to the Wimbledon men's singles final July 6 between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, for which McEnroe was the television commentator. "And in a small way, it was something that I was very proud to be a part of. I'm hopeful that it is good for tennis. I've heard that there were a lot of people who weren't tennis fans who were watching and it captured some interest.
"Obviously, the spectacle of the way they let it go, the delays and how they played pretty much the whole day, and the quality of the tennis and the way these rivals could bring out the best in each other -- I'm hopeful and optimistic that we have turned the corner."
Being an American, McEnroe fully aware of his sport's sinking popularity in this country. When he was in his prime, so were the likes of Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl. These days, Andy Roddick is seemingly America's best hope among the men on the court. Other names have come and gone with little or no success, and now no American can compete with the men's game's best.
However, McEnroe doesn't think that America's lack of representation in Grand Slam Finals is too big a problem. For proof, he cites other sports, ones that are firmly entrenched into everyday American living.
"Despite the fact that neither (Federer or Nadal) are Americans, we don't have to just wait or think that there's got to be an American and that we think that that's necessary to create some interest," he said. "Twenty to 25 percent of the players in (Major League Baseball) are not American, they are Dominican, for example, and they have done a great job of promoting that. And in the NBA more and more players are not American. So it is our job in our sport to market these guys. And obviously, if Roddick made a great run, there is no doubt about it. Or if someone else came along ... but at the moment, it is a pretty special time in this sport."
During McEnroe's heyday, the sport was arguably in its prime. Epic battles in Grand Slam finals were expected, not hoped for. In 1981, McEnroe and Borg played a Wimbledon final that was long considered the greatest match in tennis history. Now, even McEnroe concedes that the Federer-Nadal Wimbledon final that Nadal won in four hours and 48 minutes was the best ever.
McEnroe is fine with the idea that names of this generation are approaching and even overtaking those from his era and those long before. And he would like to see more marathon showdowns between Federer and Nadal. If it's good for the sport, McEnroe is OK with it.
He knows he is long removed from his turn to add excitement on a court that isn't one featuring a WTT match. That doesn't change the fact that he would like to see change.
"The Calendar would be an important factor, changing the calendar," he said of the ATP and WTA tours' schedules. "And prioritizing certain things like the Davis Cup, which seems to be on life support. When you represent your country it's not really even discussed anymore. Doubles is in a horrible state and all these things need to be addressed."
In Monday's tilt between the Freedoms and the Sportimes, McEnroe saw action in the first match, men's doubles. He wasn't teamed with Michael Stich like when the two won the 1992 Wimbledon doubles crown and wasn't facing a player the caliber of which Borg was in the early 1980s. Instead, he was on the same side of the net as Brian Wilson and playing against the Freedoms' duo of Travis Parrott and Alex Bogomolov. Not exactly household names.
But McEnroe was still, well, McEnroe.
With his side down 3-1, McEnroe gave the line judge some lip after a call that favored the home team. He even went so far as to slam his racket to the court. Of course, it was all for show, to give the fans that came to see him a reason to laugh. All in attendance did just that -- all except the line judge.
Apparently, those judges still aren't amused by John's sense of humor or competitive flair.
Not that he cares. Much of what McEnroe cared about Monday was promoting tennis and putting on a good show in a city where he has some history.
"Obviously Philly is close to where I live," the New York resident said. "So that is nice. And the people seem to come out and support their tennis. It's historically one of our great cities and it's nice to have events being played here. Although I'm not sure I would recommend a mall. That wouldn't be my first choice."