Tennis Prose



The Greatest Fighter McEnroe Ever Saw

John McEnroe is not only an all time legendary sports champion, he’s also a major fan of many other sports including basketball, hockey, boxing, baseball and football.

The former Wimbledon, US Open and Davis Cup champion has seen just about every competitor in the world for the last sixty years, many of them up close and personal, from front row seats inside Madison Square Garden and ringside at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where he watched Sugar Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns live in 1981.

So any John McEnroe opinion about any champion obviously carries a lot of weight and credibility.

This week in an ESPN conference call with the tennis media McEnroe made a very bold and blunt declaration. He hailed Rafael Nadal as “the greatest fighter in any sport.”

It’s fascinating and awesome that the fighting spirit of Nadal impresses John McEnroe even a little bit more more than some of the greatest boxing champions of all time, such as Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, all of whom McEnroe has watched perform in the squared circle.

While there may be a smidgen of bias by McEnroe, still a competitive tennis player on the senior circuit, towards his kindred court comrades over champions from other sports, the compliment to Nadal is understandable and absolutely acceptable. Nadal is still going strong and at the moment is all time leader in Grand Slam singles titles won (20) with Roger Federer, and in two weeks time, Nadal has a very good chance to win a history-making no. 21.

Nadal is been a marvel in so many ways. He has won 13 French Opens, four US Opens, two Wimbledons and one Australian, Olympic gold in singles and doubles and five Davis Cups. All while having to compete against Federer, Novak Djokovic and many other tennis titans for those titles.

Nadal, now 34, has won 1,004 ATP singles matches and over $123 million in prize money. And the current ATP no. 2 ranked player is far from finished.

He’s eager to keep fighting and swinging forehands and backhands for a few more years, or as long as his body will allow him to.

If Nadal was presented with this praise from John McEnroe, he’d probably smile awkwardly with profound humility. And say something of similar sentiments to what Lawrence Taylor, the all time great NFL linebacker, said face to face to a former cruiserweight boxing champion from New Jersey named Bobby Czyz: “I could never do what you did.”

Meaning, as a football player, tackling running backs and quarterbacks was a lot easier and safer than prizefighting against the best boxers in the world.

Artwork by Bud Boccone.

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