John McEnroe’s Plan to Save Pro Tennis? Get Rid of Umpires, Make Players Officiate Own Matches.

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 22 2014 12:01 PM

John McEnroe’s Plan to Save Pro Tennis? Get Rid of Umpires, Make Players Officiate Own Matches.

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Photo by TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images

John McEnroe—to put it mildly—never quite saw eye-to-eye with the umpire during his tennis-playing days. If the image of him berating officials and smashing rackets has dimmed in your head, here’s a quick refresher on his pretty epic bad boy ways. McEnroe has since given up the baseline for the broadcasting booth on tennis' biggest stage and has refashioned himself as an outspoken reformist ambassador of the game. Now, in what is part mission statement and perhaps part wishful thinking, McEnroe has a plan to boost tennis’ sagging popularity: “Do away with the umpires and linesmen completely,” he says.

While that may sound anarchic—and it is, really—McEnroe thinks it could inject some new energy into the game. Sort of like a reality TV version of Gladiator meets Wimbledon. Here’s what Johnny Mac has in mind, via the Guardian:

“You’d have a system where the players would call their own lines. All of a sudden things would get a whole lot edgier. But you could challenge it. Say the guy was, like, blatantly cheating and you challenge, people would be, like: ‘Boo!’ People would get way more into it. And then you’d be, like: ‘See this guy? This guy is such a cheater!’ It would be unbelievable for tennis, I promise you. The problem is, there’s no way in hell they’ll do it. But I guarantee you that tennis would be like 30% more interesting.”
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“You can’t just stand on your heels and do nothing,” McEnroe said. “We’ve got to keep trying to do things, in my opinion, to grab fans.”

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.