John McEnroe was criticised heavily after his comments about Emma Raducanu when she retired from Wimbledon in July, but the American said he was “very supportive” of her at the time and praised the Briton for her stunning US Open victory.
Raducanu retired from her last-16 Wimbledon match due to breathing difficulties and McEnroe, commentating for the BBC, said the occasion on her major debut appeared to get “a little bit too much” for her.
McEnroe was criticised for the comments, but the three-times Wimbledon champion said they had been blown out of proportion. “I meant exactly what I said,” McEnroe said on CNN. “I tried to relate it in a small way to my experience when I first went to Wimbledon also at 18. She did better than I did. I played Jimmy Connors, I hadn’t been on the Centre Court and I remember my legs shaking, feeling totally overwhelmed by the experience and almost happy that I didn’t win.
“Subsequently I went to Stanford for a year and had some time to sort of regroup mentally and prepare for the rigours of the tour. There’s a lot of great upsides, but there’s also pressure you put on yourself and expectations others put on you. I mean that was to me as vanilla as it comes … I was very supportive of her, I thought, at the time. You know the papers over in England. Sometimes, they make a big deal out of nothing.”
The 18-year-old Raducanu beat fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez to become the first qualifier to win a major title on Saturday. McEnroe said he had wondered how she would handle her newfound fame after her Wimbledon run. “I don’t think you could possibly do it any better than she did it [at the US Open],” he said. “That’s insane she’s been able to do this.”
McEnroe hopes to see Naomi Osaka return to action soon after she took a break from tennis. “Osaka was someone who was very shy and introverted the first time I met her. I think she continues to be that way now,” he said of the four-times major winner.
“She came out last year, made a big statement at the US Open wearing the mask. It was a great thing. Now, all of a sudden, more attention is on her. I hope she can handle it because we need her around for another 10 years.”
Meanwhile, Raducanu has said her sensational triumph at Flushing Meadows had yet to sink in and that the 18 months she took off from the sport provided her with the “hunger” to win in New York.
“I feel great. Everything that’s happened in the last 72 hours has been so much fun … it still hasn’t really sunk in, but occasionally I’ll remember that I won the US Open,” she told the WTA website.
Raducanu took a break from tennis last year due to the pandemic and also because her parents insisted she should complete her school exams. “Having 18 months away … coming out you play every match like you don’t know when your last match will be. That was how I was approaching the whole summer … But the biggest thing is that I never once got ahead of myself,” she said.
“For three weeks I just played the opponent in front of me, I took care of what I wanted to try and achieve on that day against that opponent, and just repeated it for three weeks.”
Raducanu said she planned to switch off from tennis after an intense few weeks and was not sure when her next tournament would be. “I cherish the most the moments with the team after the win … that was probably the most special night, when we were reflecting … I know I’ll get back to work probably Monday or early next week – schedule-wise, I’m not sure.”
“I have a few days’ rest and recovery [coming up], I think needed after the last seven weeks but then I am straight back to training and hungry to get better and come back out and play some more.”