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When We Spoke To John

1.     What is your funniest incident you remember from your career? 


Back in the day, when Buster Mottram was UK No 1, he had a fairly routine first round match on centre court at Wimbledon. Now, Buster was a great bloke, but bonkers really. He said to me before he went out that that he was going to put a serve into the Royal box. He’s winning comfortably, and 40-0 up on his serve, and I can see him eyeing up the box. I think, ‘Hell, he’s going for it.’ and he whacks it straight at them. Fortunately, it just drops short of causing some proper damage. The great Dan Mascell is commentating: “Gosh. Dare I say that was a slight mishit”. Brilliant from the great man - who once helpfully told us that both Gullikson twins came from Wisconsin, and that Martina only relaxed when she got tense!


2.     Of all your opponents:


Who had the best serve?

You could argue this a lot. But it's not just about who has the best first serve, but who has the best array of serves – and particularly how good their second service is. I’ve got to go for John Newcombe as being the best all round server.


Who had the best backhand?

It’s got to be Connors. Accuracy, depth, weight. A real weapon – and to make it even worse to play against he could throw in a brilliant slice backhand as well when he wanted.


Who had the best forehand?

Borg - all day long. Fantastic variety. Incredible accuracy. He just never seemed to miss.


Who had the strongest mentality?

This has to be Connors. He could be 5-1 and 40-0 down in a set and he would still sell his mum for a point. They didn’t call him the street fighter for nothing!


Who did you most dread playing?


Jimmy Connors again. Sometimes you play people whose game is just built to combat your own style - and that becomes a really bad match-up if the guy you’re playing just happens to be one of the all-time greats. That was me with Jimmy. I’m not sure I ever won a set against him - no matter how well I played - and that’s hard to look forward to!


3.     Is there a great story you could share about a prominent player of the Golden Age?

I remember the semi-final when Henman played Ivanisevic – the one that was rain affected when Henman was 2-1 up. I’m commentating with McEnroe, and they bring the camera onto us when the players go off for rain. Sue Barker is in the studio, and she say, “Over to the two Johns”. McEnroe gets straight at it. “When they come back on the Brit fans have got get seated and cheer their man on – the women have got to sit their fannies down as quickly as possible.” Now, this is the BBC at Wimbledon. There’s nowhere more English and refined in the whole world - and fanny means something completely different to us Brits, so there is a moment of horrified silence. I try and defuse the tension. “I think John means backside.” I butt in hastily.  “Yeah, that’s right,” says McEnroe. “They need get their asses sat down.” 


4.     Apart from yourself, of course, who did you think was the most stylish dresser of the Golden Age? 


I’m going to give a nod here to my brother, David. David was quite the dandy, really, and would spend a small fortune shopping for Jackets and suits in Saville Row. Mind, he wasn’t that good looking, if I’m honest, so he needed to up his game a bit to complete with the other lads on the tour.


5.     Do you think tennis clothes today have the same panache and style as those in the past?


No. There’s some good stuff out there - of course there is. Roger Federer, for instance, always looks classy and refined. But some of the gear these days looks like it’s been designed for John Daly, to be honest. Back in my day, the clothes just seemed cooler. Look at the great clothes Borg wore. Or Gerulaitis. Classics then, and they still look classic today.


6.     Why did you want to agree to become an ambassador for GAOT? 

I love this sport and was fortunate enough to be a player in that great time for tennis in the seventies and eighties. It’s great to be part of something that is preserving those great memories, and helping bring back the fantastic style of that time.