Raeburn Place rugby ground has seen many exquisite side-steps since hosting the first international back in 1871 but few, surely, to compare with that executed by John McEnroe towards the end of the Brodie’s Champions of Tennis event.
It was 24 years ago on “superbrat’s” last appearance in the Capital that I waited ten hours to greet him at Edinburgh Airport in the hope of a brief interview only to be told to “f*** off, jerk.”
Time heals and for a few moments I thought the hatchet might be buried. Too busy after defeating Wayne Ferreira in the Legends Final to answer a couple of questions face-to-face even though the Evening News was the only newspaper represented yesterday, McEnroe, nevertheless, did agree to respond through a tournament media officer.
Eureka. The net (no pun) was closing and what’s a quarter of a century between two (potential) friends? Mac the Nice would do perfectly for a headline.
Now it was a question of awaiting the response. Or not.
For, while Ferreira was still signing autographs en route to the changing room, McEnroe was slipping out a back door into a waiting car and that despite the fact there was a contractual obligation to undertake a post-match interview.
Being charitable, I was reminded of the occasion when Tony Blair summed up an alleged attack on an egg thrower by his deputy, Mr Prescott, saying: “John is John.”
And that pretty much accounts for McEnroe who can be as entertaining as he is exasperating while leaving those obliged to deal with him on edge. One of those was tournament announcer/interviewer Graeme Easton who admitted: “I was nervous. I’ve been privileged to host the beach volleyball at the London Olympics, had Craig Levein take it personally when he thought I was too enthusiastic about Jordan Rhodes subbing one of his original selections at Hampden and spoken on the mike with the true gentleman of sport that is Chris Paterson, at Murrayfield.
“So, I’ve been around the block a bit.
“However, I knew I had to think extra hard about what I said to John because of his reputation for spikeyness.
“Fortunately he was fine and there was a funny moment when my brother, who was playing the music, introduced him to the sound of Springstein’s ‘Born in the USA’.
“McEnroe snapped ‘I wasn’t’ and, of course, as tennis lovers know he actually first came into this world in Germany!”
So, I doff my cap to Mr Easton for eliciting what there was to hear from McEnroe after polishing off Ferriera in a rain affected match.
Indeed, not many have had the temerity to ask the New Yorker what it feels like to wear the kilt as he had done for a sponsors’ photograph the previous evening.
“The freefall was a little scary,” said McEnroe to guffaws from the gallery, adding “There was an area of open-ness I hadn’t experienced before.”
True wit and as one of the great analysts – be assured he will demonstrate it at Wimbledon over the next fortnight – he might have been more empathetic to a couple of less than intrusive queries about crowd interactions and the humility he had shown on his arrival two days ago.
Before leaving the court and rushing off there was a hint from McEnroe that he would return next year but you will hopefully pardon my reluctance to take anything he says too seriously.
“It’s great to be back here and hopefully next time we will get this worked out and really come back and play some great tennis players.”
Aye right, as we say in these parts, John.
Mac the tennis player is welcome any time.
As for what goes with the rest of the package I think I’ll pass. Finally.