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McEnroe laments state of Aussie tennis

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Originally published on: 11/11/10 11:23

John McEnroe has never been one to keep his thoughts to himself. On the agenda yesterday were his concerns about the state of Australian tennis, and his belief that the appointment of Pat Rafter as Davis Cup captain is a positive move forward.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said McEnroe, who is shocked that such a successful nation in the past has only one man inside the top 100 – Lleyton Hewitt at No.56.

“When I grew up I idolised (Rod) Laver, and Harry Hopman was around and he was sort of my inspirational leader, and I heard all these war stories about all these incredible players, it is unbelievable to think that there’s only one guy that is not even in the top 50 right now.”

While the Australian ‘barmy army’, who patriotically follow their players around the circuit, have had Sam Stosur to follow deep into the Grand Slam draws this year, including a final appearance at Roland Garros, there has not been a lot to sing about of late within men’s tennis.

No Australian male reached the last eight of a Grand Slam in 2010, while the Davis Cup squad missed out on a return to the elite World Group when they lost to Belgium in September’s play-off.

An injury to Hewitt after the opening rubber played its part in that defeat, but McEnroe went so far as to question whether former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Hewitt has what it takes anymore.

“I think Lleyton was someone who really maximised his ability,” said McEnroe of Hewitt, who made such an immediate impact on the tour as a tennager, qualifying for his home Slam aged just 15 before claiming his first ATP title in Adelaide a year later.

“He’s someone who’s not as big as these other guys but his heart and his will and his speed got him to where he did something that I’m sure when he was a little kid they would have said was impossible for him to win a couple of majors.

“But at this point to expect him to win a major would be asking too much of him.”

Hewitt, 29, is beginning to show signs that his career is beginning to wind up, having undergone hip surgery in 2009, but the plucky Aussie is not someone to just fall away.

“Maybe deep down in his soul he believes he can still do it, and if that’s the case he has every right to start trying,” admitted McEnroe.

The loss of Hewitt would expose Australian tennis to even greater scrutiny with their second best player, 25-year-old Marinko Matosevic, ranked No.138 in the world, with four other Australians ranked inside the top 200.

Hopes that Bernard Tomic, who was such a prolific junior, might kick on haven’t materialised as yet, with the 18-year-old ranked outside the top 200.

However, McEnroe does believe the appointment of Pat Rafter is a brilliant appointment as Davis Cup captain, but cautioned against expecting miracles from the former world No.1.

“I think Patrick Rafter is a fantastic appointment, absolutely first class,” said McEnroe. “There’s not a single guy on the tour that didn’t like this young man, and he’s a mate’s mate as I think you say in Australia, so I think he’s going to do a great job and do the best he can.”

“But I understand Australia’s in the minor leagues right now so that just shows you the state of affairs – so good luck to you Pat, you’ll need it.”

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