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SPORTS Patrick McEnroe on his podcast, out athletes and Serena
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 742 times since Thu May 13, 2021
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When it comes to tennis, ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe certainly knows his way around the court. The younger brother of Hall of Famer John McEnroe, Patrick carved his own path in the sport, as a player (including very successful turns in college and on the pro circuit) and a coach.

Patrick recently talked with Windy City Times about the second season of his addictive podcast, Holding Court with Patrick McEnroe. (This season's guests include Seal, John McEnroe, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Gavin Rossdale and Kristen Chenoweth, among others.) However, he also discussed everything else from out athletes to Serena Williams to his own special connection to Chicago.

Windy City Times: As you know, we're in the age of COVID. Regarding the [top-tier tennis tours] ATP or WTA, do you think they'll be a vaccination mandate regarding players?

Patrick McEnroe: I do not think that's going to happen. Tennis players come from all over the world and have different legal requirements, based on where they're from. I understand that some leagues are thinking about doing that—like the NFL or NBA—but tennis is an individual sport. So I don't see them going to a strict mandate, no.

WCT: Because I was wondering how players like Novak Djokovic and John Isner—who are not the biggest vaccination supporters—would react to a mandate.

PM: I don't think it's specific toward those couple players, but tennis players are individual entities. If ESPN told me I had to get vaccinated to go to Wimbledon, that'd be different. [Editor's note: McEnroe said that he's already gotten both vaccinations.] I guess a tournament like the U.S. Open could set such a mandate, but I doubt things are going to go that way.

WCT: Congratulations on the second season of this podcast.

PM: Thank you! It's gaining traction but, more than anything, it's something I love doing—and I've always wanted to do something like this. I really like the radio format. Also, it's tennis-related but it also branches away from tennis at the same time—sort of the combination I was looking for.

WCT: Yes, there is a very interesting mix of guests. I listened to the podcast with Kristen Chenoweth; no tennis was discussed but it was still very intriguing. And then there's one with [former U.S. Sen.] Rick Santorum that aired during the first season—and ran the week after the U.S. Capitol insurrection; interestingly, he said that former President Trump was wrong for saying the election was stolen from him.

PM: Yeah, and I just did one with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Initially, I was looking for guests who had a definitive interest in tennis; I had people like Alec Baldwin and Dick Vitale. For the second season, I was still looking for those people but thought it would be fun to just [talk with people with other interests]. For example, I know Kristen Chenoweth and my wife knows her. For season two, I also have Michael Imperioli, an actor from The Sopranos. But Sen. Gillibrand is a huge tennis fan, but an interest in tennis is not required.

WCT: And is Seal a big tennis fan?

PM: Unbelievably huge. Not only is he a huge tennis fan, but he's almost obsessive about how much he plays. In fact, that's probably one of my favorite podcasts because he goes deep into analyzing the game of tennis. He's not what I would call a high-level player, but he's a massive enthusiast. Plus, there's the backstory of his incredible singing career, and he's super-fit. With the podcast, he just couldn't stop. During the pandemic, he was lucky to have his own tennis court and he invites people to play with him all the time.

I met him at a Chris Evert celebrity tennis event—and that's how I met a few of the other actors who have been guests, like Timothy Olyphant. His mother actually played junior tennis and Timothy was actually a high-level swimmer who went to USC on a swimming scholarship. But I've also interviewed some tennis [icons] like Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl—and I'm really excited about my brother joining me once a month during season two. We kicked things off, and the numbers were through the roof—so people like to hear the brothers. [Interviewer laughs.]

WCT: I believe the sibling love is there—but is there still sibling rivalry?

PM: Oh, there's always been a little bit, Andrew—although, now that we're older, the age different isn't as extreme as when we were kids. He's seven-and-a-half years older; I couldn't really play tennis with him until I got to be, say, 16 or 17; but at that point he was number-one in the world, so he'd still kick my ass. We used to play crazy ping-pong battles in our house, so that was one area in which I could beat him every once in a while.

We played each other a couple times on the [pro] tour and, usually, John would beat me pretty easily. One time we played a final in Chicago. [The 1991 match was Patrick's first singles final, and he lost to John in three sets.] That was a big day and our dad actually flew in just for the match. That was a time when I was at the peak of my career and John was at the tail end of his; that was actually the last title he won in singles.

Over the years, we've enjoyed playing doubles together. In fact, one of the great things I've enjoyed over the past 10 years has been the two of us playing the senior tournaments at the Grand Slams. Obviously, working together with him in broadcasting has been the highlight of that career.

WCT: Regarding the podcast, who are two or three of your dream guests?

PM: Well, I'd love to get Elton John. He's a huge tennis player and is very good friends with Billie Jean King. And he used to run a big event to support the [Elton John] AIDS Foundation through World Team Tennis. I don't know if he plays as much now, but he used to play a lot.

I'd love to get Lars Ulrich, the drummer from Metallica. His dad, Torben Ulrich, used to be a really good tennis player from Denmark. Lars played a lot of tennis while growing up; his dad, after tennis, became this jazz musician and incredible artist. I'd love to talk with Lars about Metallica but, to be honest, I'm more interested in his dad. He'd like to talk, but it's a little hard to pin him down.

Oh—and Dustin Hoffman used to really be into tennis. You know, Serena [Williams] would be great. I don't go after current players as much, because of their schedules.

WCT: You mentioned Billie Jean King. When I interviewed her last year, she mentioned that she didn't think more athletes have come out of the closet because of the toxic masculinity that pervades sports. What do you think of that theory?

PM: First, I just want to mention that I did a podcast with Ilana Kloss, Billie Jean's longtime partner in life and in business. Ilana was a really good player herself. I feel like Billie Jean has done so much that I don't know if I want to ask her [to do the podcast]. But, at some point, that's a no-brainer.

About the masculinity, I don't know if I'd use the word "toxic," but I'm not a [lesbian]—although I can certainly understand where she's coming from. In the tennis world, I don't recall seeing that, but I'm sure there are some gay male tennis players I didn't know about. Maybe they're uncomfortable with coming out? That is possible.

It's hard for me to comment on that because I don't know if there were any guys I played with, for example, who didn't come out. I do know of Brian Vahaly, who was a pretty good tour player. He came out as a gay man after he'd finished player—he's the only one I know of.

WCT: Please be as honest as you can with this next question: Do you think Serena's going to get number 24? [Currently, Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles—the second-most of all time, behind Margaret Court, who has 24.]

PM: I don't, no. But, then again, I didn't think Roger Federer was going to win any majors after his knee issues from a couple years ago—and he won three.

Serena's been so close; she's been in three or four finals after giving birth—and she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open this year. Let me put it this way: I wouldn't be surprised if she won another one. But the problem is that she doesn't have the fear factor that she used to; also, she moves well, but she doesn't move quite as well as she used to. In Serena's prime, if she played well, it was game over. She's still darn good, though—but she's not as dominant as she used to be.

WCT: Given everything that has happened over the past year or so, what have you learned about yourself?

PM: Well, that's a great question. I actually started seeing my own therapist during this time, and that was been great for me. I've actually been married [to singer/actress Melissa Errico] for more than 20 years, and she always saying, "You should get a therapist. It'd be really good for you."

It's just been really rewarding to look at myself. I've opened myself a little more and have been discussing my feelings a little more. My dad was an old-time Irish guy who said, "Oh, we don't want to talk about that," so we grew up with a "stiff upper lip" type of thing.

Doing the podcast has been a lot of fun for me, and it's helped me learn about other people and other interests. So being more open to myself has helped me be more open about other people. It's why I keep doing the podcast.

The "Holding Court with Patrick McEnroe" podcast is available on Apple, Spotify and Audible, among other platforms.

This article shared 742 times since Thu May 13, 2021
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