John McEnroe stands by Emma Raducanu comments: 'I meant exactly what I said'

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John McEnroe speaks on court after the Men's Singles third round match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain - Getty Images
John McEnroe speaks on court after the Men's Singles third round match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain - Getty Images

John McEnroe has stood by his questioning of Emma Raducanu's mental strength at Wimbledon, as he hailed her subsequent US Open triumph as "insane".

The outspoken American had prompted criticism for saying live on the BBC that "it appears that it just got a little bit too much" after she pulled out at the All England Club with breathing difficulties.

However, speaking for the first time after she bounced back with a flawless triumph in New York, he maintained that those comments were "vanilla". "I meant exactly what I said," he told American broadcaster CNN on Tuesday. "I tried to relate it in a small way to my experience when I first went to Wimbledon also at 18."

Britain's overnight sensation remained the most in-demand figure in global sport on Tuesday, as she took a phone call from Boris Johnson congratulating her on her "fantastic" triumph. Downing Street is understood to have been in discussions with the Lawn Tennis Association about inviting her to a reception. The Prime Minister's spokesman revealed she had discussed support for grass-roots tennis with him after he called prior to his address to the nation over Covid-19.

The 18-year-old, who caught up on some rest on Tuesday after rounding off celebrations with an appearance at the Met Gala, has also impressed Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who described her as inspirational and a "talent of the century".

Raducanu had first made waves at Wimbledon, becoming the youngest Briton to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon since 1959. However, immediately after she was forced to retire from her match against Alja Tomljanovic with breathing difficulties while trailing 6-4, 3-0, McEnroe, the three-time men’s champion, faced viewer anger after saying: “It appears that it just got a little bit too much, as is understandable, particularly [with] what we’ve been talking about this last six weeks with Naomi Osaka not even here.”

 Britain's Emma Raducanu poses with the U.S. Open tennis championship trophy - Reuters
Britain's Emma Raducanu poses with the U.S. Open tennis championship trophy - Reuters

Amid a row that ensued, Piers Morgan supported the comments, but Andy Murray later leaping to her defence. As McEnroe attempted to draw a line under the controversy last night, he said he raised the issue as he also felt "overwhelmed" by his debut at the tournament. However, he added that his comments about Raducanu paled with other opinions he had voiced in the past. "I mean that was to me as vanilla as it comes....I was very supportive of her, I thought, at the time," he added.

McEnroe added that there was a lot of concern in British tennis "along with people in her family and, and the people that work with her" at "how is she going to be able to handle this sort of newfound fame". However, she proved in New York that she can handle all the pressure she was under, he added.

"I don't think you could possibly do it any better than she did it when the US Open," he added. "Are you kidding me? That's insane, and that she's been able to do this now there's going to be obviously a lot more focus on it. It's incredible.

"If Billie Jean King says pressure is a privilege, I believe her. She's done more for women's sports and maybe sports in general than anyone in the last 100 years."

Murray and Marcus Rashford had expressed support for Emma Raducanu as the teenager's mental strength was first scrutinised. Rashford said the same breathless problem had "happened to me playing for the national team in U16s against Wales".

Of Raducanu's Wimbledon experience, McEnroe had added that she is "not the first person to deal with pressure in sport". "I don’t know how she is turning it around over the last couple of months but I’m sure a lot of people would like to find out," he added.

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