John McEnroe swings through Fenway Park
If anyone understands rivalries, it’s John McEnroe.
The Hall of Famer spent the heart of his career entangled in one of the most compelling rivalries tennis has ever witnessed; one that occasionally came to a head on Centre Court at Wimbledon; one that continues to this day with the Team Europe vs. Team World Laver Cup. Borg vs. McEnroe.
So it only seemed appropriate that McEnroe should stop by Fenway Park on Wednesday, where the historic Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees duel has played out since the early 20th century.
“My dad was a big Yankees fan, so my first 21 years I was a Yankees fan,” said McEnroe, who eventually morphed into a supporter of the crosstown foe Mets. “The Red Sox and Yankees are two incredibly storied franchises. When I switched allegiances, that’s when Boston all of a sudden turned it around big time.”
McEnroe’s head-to-head with Bjorn Borg stands at an even 7-7. But since being named Team World Captain, he’s 0-3 against the Team Europe Captain in Laver Cup play. He hopes to reverse that trend beginning September 24 at one of Boston’s other iconic sports sanctuaries, TD Garden.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” said McEnroe, whose team was edged, 13-11, in Geneva in 2019, when Germany’s Alexander Zverev defeated Canada’s Milos Raonic, 6-4 3-6 10-4 in the final match. “We’ve been so close. We were in a position to win. That’s very exciting. I was pumped up.
The idea this year is to mix a little youth with experience, guys who can take the racquet out of your hand.
On McEnroe’s bench in 2021 are: Canadians Felix Auger-Aliassime (21) and Denis Shapovalov (22), Americans John Isner (36) and Reilly Opelka (24), Argentine Diego Schwartzman (29), and Australian Nick Kyrgios (26).
“I hope that someone like Nick, for example, rises to the occasion, because it appears to me that this is his favorite event,” said McEnroe. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to make that happen with him and Opelka and Isner, and then you’ve got the two young Canadians. They’ve got six guys ranked in the Top 10. Our first guy is No. 11 [Auger-Aliassime]. It’s obviously going to be difficult to pull this off.”
Will the Laver Cup veteran Kyrgios, his lowest-ranked player at No. 95, turn out to be McEnroe’s linchpin?
“I would certainly hope so,” he said. “He’s very passionate about it. But he’s had a tough time since he’s come back to the tour — injuries, a lack of matches, losing some close matches. He’s had some tough draws. Hopefully, this is the type of format where he can step up.”
As intense as his rivalry with Borg might have been during their playing days, McEnroe says he’s looking forward to squaring off against Borg once again, albeit from the sidelines.
“I love the guy. We were great friends and rivals,” said McEnroe. “He’s the only guy I never had an issue with. That should tell you something. It’s not ironic because he never said anything. It was easy for me and [Jimmy] Connors to go at it, or [Ivan] Lendl. As I got to know him, I was even more impressed. That’s almost impossible for anyone to do. I couldn’t even do what he did in practice, to maintain that sense of calm.”