Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : World Sport Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

 

 

JOHN McENROE comes to town

Aussies go missing

The moment John McEnroe opened his mouth in the Channel Seven commentary box at the Australian Tennis Open, Australians were treated to a tantalising glimpse of the Big Apple and the spirit that made him one of the greatest players in tennis history.

At Seven his impending arrival was treated with the breathless expectation that usually accompanies a visit from Hollywood royalty or the Pope. And true to form the man didn't disappoint Bruce McAvaney, who admitted he could have sat with Mac all day were it not for the need to cross to a commercial.

Emboldened by an unrivalled status in the tennis world, McEnroe is a man at the top of his game. Rather than feign sympathy for Australian Todd Larkham's round two disaster against Lleyton Hewitt, McEnroe told it as it was. Larkham was neither fit enough nor sufficiently talented to be drawn against the world's number one.

While fellow commentator Sandy Roberts played the concerned host and batted for the TV station, the New Yorker lambasted the hapless Larkham as if he was a despised umpire of old. The next day, Larkham's brother and coach, Brent, challenged McEnroe to a stoush in the car park.

Bored by the Larkham match, McEnroe had opted for repartee in preference to the earnest, polite assessment usually provided by our own John Fitzgerald. But it was when he took to centre court to interview Hewitt that our celebrity visitor delighted the audience. Gone were the dreary media questions so often dismissed by these petulant kids with racquets.

After a perfunctory opening question that bore the tone of a supercilious teacher, McEnroe, with a twinkle in his eye, transformed Hewitt into a likeable young bloke and swept away the pre-conceptions that have dogged the boy from Adelaide.

By the time Hewitt had dispensed with Radek Stepanek, McEnroe had him cheerfully explaining the origins of his back-to front baseball cap and eating out of his hand. From publicly wishing his 'old man' a happy fiftieth, to discussing the possibility of playing mixed doubles with his girlfriend, Hewitt had embraced McEnroe and become the darling of the circuit.

So yes, I was happy to see John McEnroe plying his skills down under. But is that all there is to the story? Notwithstanding McEnroe's class with the microphone, is it imperative that he be given the pre-eminent special comments role?

And although I don't know what he thinks about American foreign policy, it's hard not to see our relationship with him as a metaphor for US - Australian relations. With George Bush gearing up for a terrible and unsanctioned attack on Iraq, and our own Prime Minister beating the US war drums, there was more to tennis than Seven's love affair with McEnroe.

Although Cricket is an international game with a TV audience in the subcontinent and the United Kingdom that dwarfs the Australian component, Kerry Packer doesn't feel the need to relegate our own champions, Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell and Bill Lawry, to a secondary role in order to serve an overseas market. Tony Greig had to take up residence here to cement a major hosting role!

Australians love Chappell because, like McEnroe, he gave no quarter and didn't doff his cap to the establishment. Importantly, neither Chappell's nor Benaud's legitimacy is dependant on the appearance behind the microphone of an international cricket celebrity. But even when Channel Nine hosts Wimbledon, it is Australians John Newcombe and Fred Stolle who get the gig. That's how it should be.

Maybe the explanation for McEnroe's dominance in the commentary box was due to a dearth of available past players to rival the status and intellectual qualities of McEnroe. Maybe! Although Pat Cash may not have McEnroe's New York appeal, he offered much of the same candour and larrikinism, and John Alexander is hardly a model of soporific decorum and politeness.

Unfortunately, like Prime Minister John Howard, Channel Seven seemed wedded to the maxim that if it's American it's better. As irony would have it, McEnroe's appearance coincided with the Australia Day Council exhorting Australians to recite a jingoistic, American style oath of allegiance on Australia Day. So 'brave, strong and equal' are we, an overseas celebrity has to be flown in to interview those Aussie heroes who 'make the cut' on the tennis court.

To accentuate the hypocrisy of the Australia Day breast beating, Pat Cash was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame but never allowed to offer a local boy's understanding of the Open or put some of McEnroe's opinions to the test.

As a player, McEnroe belittled and abused anyone who stood between him and success. Yet his modus operandi, like that of America as it sets about 'regime change' in Iraq, is forgotten. Todd Larkham's brother was wrong in challenging McEnroe to a fight and resorting to crude sexist analogies about him being a girl. But at least he was Aussie enough to tell McEnroe that everyone, even a lowly player, deserves respect.

Maybe there was a message in Brent Larkham's defence of his little brother. Being an enlightened global Australian doesn't mean doffing your cap to international celebrities and mouthing jingoistic platitudes anymore than it means tagging behind the US war machine in the Middle East. Maybe that was the moral of the story.

Phil Cleary


Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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