Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe on Margaret Court Arena.
Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe on Margaret Court Arena.

Tennis legend hangs up on radio star

JOHN McEnroe has hung up on Melbourne radio host Neil Mitchell when the pair butted heads over questions surrounding the tennis legend's Australian Open protest.

McEnroe and fellow tennis legend Martina Navratilova on Wednesday apologised for breaking Tennis Australia protocol with their on-court protest against Margaret Court - but the incident took a twist on Thursday when McEnroe took offence at Mitchell's apparent support of the controversial Aussie tennis great.

McEnroe and Navratilova carried a banner around the tennis stadium named after the Aussie 24-time grand slam champion, in a clear push to have the iconic venue's name changed.

The No.2 court at the Australian Open is named after Court, but McEnroe and Navratilova took the extraordinary step of walking around the venue after a legend's doubles match showing off a banner that read: "Evonne Goolagong Arena".

The pair were both forced to apologise for the stunt after unsubstantiated reports claimed the pair were threatened with having their Australian Open credentials removed as a result of their break of protocol.

 

The move earned them a public rebuke from Tennis Australia on Tuesday night. "We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view," a TA statement read.

"But the Australian Open has regulations and protocols with respect to how any fan, player or guest can use our facility, the event and the global stage it provides.

"This is to ensure the integrity of our event.

"Two high-profile guests have breached these protocols and we are working through this with them."

McEnroe's interview with Mitchell previewing Thursday's action at Melbourne Park went pear shaped almost immediately when the shock jock asked McEnroe about the incident.

Here's how the tense and prickly exchange played out before McEnroe hung up on the veteran 3AW broadcaster.

Neil Mitchell: Do you regret doing it?

John McEnroe: I think it could have been done better and more effectively. But in terms of regret doing it, no. I apologised because I haven't been one to have perhaps read the rule book as good as I could have. I was unaware there were certain protocols that needed to be followed. I get where Tennis Australia is trying to … handle this as non-vocally as possible. But in this particular case, I believe there's been a lot of give and take both ways. I loved Evonne Goolagong when I was a kid and I think she represents to me everything positive about what you'd want a stadium to be named.

John McEnroe did not lose his credentials.
John McEnroe did not lose his credentials.

NM: A lot of the letter writers and reaction from the public is 'this insulted Australia'. What's your reaction to that?

JM: I think that's a little going overboard, personally. Tennis Australia and I have had an excellent relationship - they've done a fantastic job with this tournament and made it bigger and better each and every year. To say that I'm insulting Australia - I don't see where you can take it to that level. That certainly wasn't what we were planning on doing. I've had a lot of history in Australia. Australia is a great sporting country and a great place to visit for the players, and myself. That would not be intentional and I'd be quite surprised if people felt that way.

NM: I don't think she is homophobic. I don't agree with what she says about gay marriage. I don't think she has said some of the things she is accused of saying. She says she has good friends who are gay and she works with them in the church. It is a complicated thing. I hate name calling and homophobic probably isn't fair to her.

JM: I've met Margaret on a handful of occasions in the past. I would absolutely be open to discussing it with her. I don't know what that would do for either side. She is a great tennis player and I don't see why that would be a bad thing at all.

NM: It is complicated. The sponsors of the Open, Emirates, you've played yourself in Dubai. Yet that country…

JM: One day in my life, yes that's correct. And I believe that's an issue that I completely agree with you. What about China? Going to China? You could name a ton of countries where their policies are, in my book, horrific. I think there should be discussion about that as well. I couldn't agree with you more.

NM: Do you think we should ban some countries?

Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe protest for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed.
Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe protest for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed.

JM: I didn't say we should ban them. But it should be discussed that they treat women for example, Saudi Arabia for example and the way that they treat them or the other places in the Middle East, are we encouraging that or accepting that? To me, in a way if you're willing to go there, and I've had this thought in my mind and I don't want to sound like I'm for money and that is probably a lot of us including myself have done a couple of times.

NM: It is illegal, homosexuality there. That is homophobic.

JM: There you go. I absolutely believe that there should be more discussion about that in my opinion.

NM: Did Tennis Australia threaten your accreditation or did they just ask you to apologise?

JM: As far as I know, that wasn't threatened. Perhaps if there is more people like you, maybe they will reconsider it, I don't know.

NM: What do you mean more people like me?

JM: You seem to have a view that you completely disagree and either subtly or forcefully you're not agreeing with which is OK. It also sounds like you're insinuating, to me at least, maybe I'm overreaching here but it seems like you're looking at perhaps they (Tennis Australia) should do more.

NM: I'm not. And I can tell you I've been one of the strongest supporters of marriage equality in this country.

JM: Well that I don't know because I don't….

NM: I know, OK fair enough.

JM: I hope that's true.

NM: What do you mean you hope that's true? Of course it is true.

JM: Listen mate, I've got a match in a little bit. It's OK to disagree with me but you don't have to try to like, you know, with the way you're talking to me, it seems like you're looking for trouble. But that's OK. It wouldn't be the first time.

NM: Well you're the one that questioned me there about whether I was telling the truth.

JM: I said I don't know. I didn't say whether you did or did not. That is a perfect example. I don't know. Whatever. Whatever makes you happy is fine.

NM: Enjoy the tennis and thank you very much for speaking to us.

You cannot be serious!
You cannot be serious!

JM: (Hangs up).

In a rough morning for the American great, he also walked into an ambush on Channel 9 where sports presenter Tony Jones took a light-hearted swipe at him for playing his matches on "black and white TVs".

Navratilova earlier apologised for breaking Tennis Australia protocol with her on-court protest against Court but says she stands by her statement.

Navratilova has long called for Court's name to be removed from Margaret Court Arena, given the grand slam record-holder's divisive views on the LGBTIQ community, and on Monday, wrote an open letter on Tennis.com, saying the venue should be renamed after Evonne Goolagong Cawley.

On Tuesday, Navratilova had just completed a legends' exhibition match when she invited fellow great McEnroe - who has also publicly criticised Court - onto the court and the pair unfurled a banner Navratilova had made that read 'Evonne Goolagong Arena'.

On Wednesday, Navratilova emphasised she stood by her beliefs regarding Court, but regretted breaking TA protocol.

"I got in trouble. I am sorry I broke protocol. I had no idea there was this kind of protocol," Navratilova told the Tennis Channel on Wednesday.

"Had I known, I would have done it differently but I would still have tried to make my statement which is basically: you name buildings after not what people just did on the court but also off the court, the whole body of work.

"And so I said my piece. You can read my whole statement. I stand by that. But I do apologise about breaking protocol. I did not mean to do that."

Court is being honoured at this year's Open as it is the 50th anniversary of her calendar-year grand slam.


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