Exclusive – John McEnroe on the one big quality that makes Rafael Nadal special

Kevin Palmer
Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon
Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon

John McEnroe has hailed Rafael Nadal as the greatest fighter in the history of the game, as he suggested youngsters need to look to the Spaniard as an example of what it takes to be a champion.

Speaking to Tennis365 at an event to promote his new movie McEnroe, the seven-time Grand Slam singles champion poured praise on the Spaniard who won his 22nd major title at the French Open last month.

Nadal has won 14 French Open titles amid his record breaking haul of major title wins, with McEnroe suggesting his unshakable will to win helped him to become one of the greatest players of all time.

“I’ve never seen anyone like him,” McEnroe told Tennis365 in an exclusive interview.

“I thought Jimmy Connors tried hard until I saw Rafael Nadal, this is insane. And that’s the greatest quality he has, by far.

“I mean, the guy’s an unbelievable player, we all know that. But the fact that he can go out there and give that type of effort, you know, match in and match out, game in and game out, is something that people aspire to, but it’s very difficult to do.

“Otherwise, everyone would do it. I mean, you just say, well go to Nick Kyrgios and say ‘go out and give an effort, you’ll be No 2, No 3 in the world. Well, if it was that easy, I guess he would do it. But you know, for him, it isn’t.”

McEnroe also suggested parents have a huge role to play in the development of a young player, with his experience of some fuelling his belief that they are doing more harm than good to their children.

“I try to tell the parents at my tennis academy that their kids should be going to school they all a lot of them start to get homeschooled I don’t agree with that,” he added.

“They’re more than they get more isolated. They put this tremendous pressure on, and that’s not a good idea for a kid.

“My belief system is to nurture these kids and to try to help them navigate through the difficulties of being out there on your own and being able to embrace it and hopefully get to a place where you could get the type of effort.

“So I feel like this is the part of the sport where parents have to be more aware of what they’re doing to their kids and be able to help them.

“You know, be parents to them. Too often, you know, these parents are living vicariously through their kids. And they ended up doing things that I think are unhealthy for the kids.

“And even sometimes when they succeed, they’re not mature enough or don’t want to deal with everything that comes with it.

“I mean Naomi Osaka comes to mind, you know, she’s been successful at a very young age, she was sort of in a cocoon.

“And she hasn’t had a chance to grow up as a human being. It looks like it, I mean, I don’t know her. So, you know, this is just a guess.

“She’s obviously a very introverted person, she’s talked about that, a shy person. And it’s kind of overwhelming in certain ways. And so you hate to see someone that good having such a tough time, who’s, you know, doing so well in so many ways.

“So that tells me that we need to look at these things more carefully. And hopefully, if us old guys or girls ex-players can be helpful in any way, I think it’s important to try to give some advice so that they feel better able to deal with it.”

McEnroe is available in cinemas in the UK and Ireland now.