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"My daughters think I'd lose against Serena Williams"

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We sat down with tennis veteran John McEnroe to talk all things tennis and toilet art...

Hi John. How are you doing?

I’m doing fine.

Who’s the biggest celebrity tennis dark horse?

It’s a tough game to learn and to be good at. Ed Norton, the actor, was very serious; he hung in there for a while when we did a charity event.

He strikes me as quite a small guy.

Actually, he’s taller than you think. Usually actors are pretty short but I don’t think he’s one of those. Sean Penn is a pretty good tennis player, actually. He played high-school tennis.

Recently there were distressing images of Donald Trump in his tennis gear. Have you seen him play?

I’ve never seen him play tennis. I used to be asked to go his event in Mar-a-Lago – some type of event where players would go – but I never went there.

Why?

I don’t know. But in a way I’m glad I didn’t at this point.

How do you feel about Shia LaBeouf portraying you in the forthcoming Borg Vs McEnroe film?

You know, I haven’t really seen him act. I’ve heard some pretty good things about his acting ability. He seems sort of crazy but that may work – there might be a connection there.

Does the film have your blessing?

It’s happening without my involvement. I’ve had knowledge of it for a while. I worry… other tennis movies that I’ve actually been in were pretty horrible.

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Rex Features

Did you see Wimbledon?

I was in it. And that was an example.

The tennis in that was a bit implausible.

Ludicrous. I was told by the director that there was some sort of method that would make it look very realistic, but that wasn’t successful in my opinion. I was terrible in it, in my mind. Of all the things I’ve done, that may be the worst.

What’s your best screen performance?

My best screen performance would probably be Mr Deeds.

Why were you so bad as a chat-show host?

I’m used to being interviewed as opposed to interviewing people, for starters. And I had a difficult time just being enthusiastic about things I didn’t know a whole lot about. I chose that particular network [CNBC] because I thought that I would be given the time to fall on my face a little bit, and I was disappointed that the plug was pulled; even though in some ways I was relieved because it was very time-consuming. The big talk-show hosts in America, they’re all extremely talented, but these guys are living and breathing it. Deep down, I don’t know if I was ready to do that.

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Rex Features

How is your art collecting going?

I do love art as I relate to artists, because they’re out there on their own too, the way tennis players are. It’s exhilarating or inspirational to have pieces of art you can look at and feel inspired by. But I think part of the problem in art, similar to tennis, is that the money has become so great that the focus is on the wrong things. They’re like machines, some of these guys. The best artists are businessmen now. They’re almost more talented figuring out the business aspect than the creative part.

What art do you have in your toilet?

In my bathroom I don’t have anything. My bathroom’s got a lot of mirrors. Usually you have little things; small watercolours or drawings. It’s not easy to have much art in bathrooms.

You had a spell in a band. Who was the most fun to jam with?

Well, I’d say The Pretenders are the band I played the most with onstage. When I was playing the most I was playing with friends and people that were in my wife’s band before. But I wasn’t like, “Hey, I can jam for a week with The Stones.” They’ve got better things to do than that.

You recently caused a big furore when you said Serena Williams would be 700th in the men’s rankings. Who would win now: you, a 58-year-old man, or her, a pregnant woman?

I’m not as confident as I used to be, but I’m still reasonably confident. Having my daughters think I’d lose just dented my belief a little bit.

But you still think you’d edge it?

I’m not quite as sure as I used to be, but I still think I’d have a chance. But maybe I should play her right now because I’d have a better chance with her being six months pregnant.

But Seriously: An Autobiography by John McEnroe is out now (Weirdenfeld & Nicolson)

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