Exclusive – John McEnroe on hitting rock bottom and why he wasn’t always a good father

John McEnroe

Tennis legend John McEnroe has opened up about his biggest regrets and admitted his failings on and off the court left a lasting mark on him.

McEnroe speaks passionately about the ups and downs in his remarkable life in a new movie about his life airing in UK and Irish cinemas this week and in an exclusive interview with Tennis365, he concedes he has often struggled to find personal contentment despite enjoying the riches and fame that came with his celebrity status.

A troubled marriage to actress Tantum O’Neill propelled him to the front pages of the world’s newspapers for all the wrong reasons in the 1980’s, with McEnroe touching on his drug problems and battles to be a good father in a movie that shines a light on this fascinating character like never before.

As the 63-year-old seven-time Grand Slam singles champion looks back on his life now, he says he has reached a point where he can be comfortable with what he has achieved and confident he can repair any of the damage his behavior might have caused with his six children.

“Am I going to sit there and tell my kids that the glass is half empty instead of half full? What type of message does that send to my kids or other kids,” he told Tennis365.

“I know it’s human nature to sort of wonder what coulda-woulda-shoulda. I do think it’s important to represent that I came out of this in a pretty darn good place overall, and my perspective is improved over time. That is important.

“A message to send and hopefully people will see that with this, that if my kids see it. I’ve come to a place where I’m able to look at myself in the mirror more than maybe at any other point in my life and feel like ‘hey, at least this guy has improved as a human being over the years’. You know, each year he tried to get a little bit better.”

Some of the most memorable moments of the McEnroe movie feature the tennis icon having fun with his family on home videos, with the intensity he takes into so many areas of his life diluted when he is around the people he loves and trusts.

Now he insists his mission in life is to ensure that he is a good role model and father to his children, as he hinted he didn’t always do that during his time at the top of tennis.

“It should be everyone’s biggest goal to be a good parent,” he added. “If you’re a parent if you decide to bring children into the world, even when I was 27, I had my first son, I felt like: Did I still want to be the best player in the world?

“Yes, did I aspire to be and want to improve? Well, I took time off in order to get better, you know, Rafael Nadal just took six months off and won the Australian Open. I took six months off and laid an egg as I lost first round at the US Open. It was the only year I lost first round.

“I won’t get into the details of why (that happened) but for whatever combination of reasons, I wasn’t even ready to come back. But having said that, you know, I had two kids one at 27 and one at 28.

“What am I supposed to be like? ‘Oh, okay take care of the kids I gotta go deal with this situation here with the rankings?’ No, no, I was trying to do both to the best of my ability. But the first priority to me should be my kids, you know, or don’t have them.”

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