John McEnroe: An Unlikely Narrator Of A New Netflix Series

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Tennis has opened up so many doors for John McEnroe during his life. The seven-time Grand Slam champion and member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame has met world leaders like Nelson Mandela, been a talk-show host, a best-selling author – even acted in a popular Adam Sandler movie, Mr. Deeds.

Currently known for his longtime tennis commentary for ESPN and the BBC, the 61-year-old New York native who is riding out the coronavirus pandemic at home with his family in Malibu, California, McEnroe has parlayed his tennis acumen and celebrity into becoming the unlikely narrator for the new Mindy Kaling semi-autobiographical Netflix series Never Have I Ever. Portions of McEnroe’s career – his 1984 French Open final meltdown against Ivan Lendl and his infamous Wimbledon tirade “You cannot be serious” come to mind – have become punchlines in this 10-episode, coming-of-age series about a first-generation Indian American teenage girl, set in a San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles.

Hearing McEnroe’s serious and sarcastic voice-overs throughout the series, undoubtedly, will remind some viewers of the old ABC dramedy series The Wonder Years, which featured the off-camera musings of actor Daniel Stern narrating an adult version of the lead character Kevin Arnold, growing up in California during the turbulent Sixties. In Never Have I Ever, the show’s lead character, 15-year-old Devi Vishakumar, begins her sophomore year of high school following a series of personal tragedies, including the death of her father, who was a tennis fanatic.

While she has visions of reinventing her image and personality to fit in with the cool kids at her high school, much to the delight – and, perhaps, confusion at first – of viewers, McEnroe as an impartial observer narrates her story in play-by-play style. He reveals Devi’s inner monologue and through his voice we learn just exactly what is going on in her brain. It turns out there is a lot. What the young Devi and McEnroe share in common is both are hot tempered and high achievers. So, when viewers hear McEnroe say young hipster phrases like “thirst trap” and “serving a damn lewk,” it’s pretty darn convincing – and funny, too.

In a recent USA Today interview, Kaling revealed her interest in having McEnroe be part of Never Have I Ever. “One thing that’s common for a lot of Indian parents is a love of tennis, it’s like an English Anglophile kind of thing,” she said. “When we decided that the character of Devi would have a temper, the McEnroe thing just kept coming back: you know, someone who’s high-achieving but is undermined by their own temper. He has really high standards for himself and everyone around him. We kept talking about him and were like, ‘Wait, should he be doing the narration?’ Devi’s dad loved tennis, and it timed out that he would have grown up watching McEnroe.”

As McEnroe told ESPNW writer Darcy Maine, “Being in the studio felt like being part of a team. Tennis doesn’t have a lot of that, and it’s something I’ve enjoyed a lot more as I’ve gotten older. And sometimes, (as the narrator), I’m bemused, other times I got to be angry, other times you’re supportive. There’s different ways that I got to narrate things, which was cool. It wasn’t always the same thing.”

McEnroe said his role shows the global reach that tennis enjoys – “even if the younger generation doesn’t know who I am.”

“When I met Mindy, she said, ‘My parents were big fans, and they watched you play, so I had to, too.’ Suddenly, you’re part of a show that seemingly has nothing to do with you, but yet, there’s a connection.”

Tennis United Ep. 5: Charades, Schwartzman, Thiem and more

On the latest episode of Tennis United, which dropped on the ATP and WTA Facebook pages Friday, Dominic Thiem, Diego Schwartzman and Dennis Novak joined co-host Vasek Pospisil for a game of charades. Other show highlights included: An interview with 2019 Roland Garros men’s doubles champions Andreas Mies and Kevin Krawietz, both from Germany, who have been helping their communities at home While Krawietz has been working in a supermarket, Mies has been delivering fruit to essential workers and the special needs community.

“We’re in a very privileged position to play tennis and make a living out of our passion since we were little kids,” said Mies. “We were able to take our hobby and turn it into a job. Sometimes it’s hard to give back when we’re traveling so much more tournaments, so now was the time to think about what we can do to help.”

Monica Puig and Caroline Garcia also are featured in interviews with co-host Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Behind The Racquet – Mihaela Buzărnescu

Mihaela Buzărnescu likes understanding more about the world, in order to be able to share it with others. As she recently wrote in a first-person essay published in the Instagram series Behind The Racquet, “I don’t think many people would think I would be where I am now, but my PhD in Sports Science has opened up new opportunities. 

“Injuries are never easy to deal with, as it takes away from your tennis, but it gave me a chance to study. Many tennis players don’t ever have a chance to see the other side because of people around them. There is always an idea that school is something you can come back to if your tennis career doesn’t work out. They feel that if you just stay focused on only tennis that’s the way to succeed, but it’s not always true. With my education, I have interacted with so many different people, on different levels, in so many different fields, that I would never have had without it. Through my education, it has allowed me to believe in myself more than ever.”

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“You get used to it once it becomes a habit. For me, I enjoyed discovering another side of myself, another personality. I like understanding more about the world, in order to share with others. I don’t think many people would think I would be where I am now, but my PhD in Sports Science has opened up new opportunities. Injuries are never easy to deal with, as it takes away from your tennis, but it gave me a chance to study. Many tennis players don’t ever have a chance to see the other side because of people around them. There is always an idea that school is something you can come back to if your tennis career doesn’t work out. They feel that if you just stay focused on only tennis that’s the way to succeed, but it’s not always true. With my education I have interacted with so many different people, on different levels, in so many different fields, that I would never have had without it. Through my education it has allowed me to believe in myself more than ever. I can only picture myself playing another four or five years on tour. It may seem funny but after it’s done I want to travel as much as I can for a year. People think that through tennis you get to see the world but you are spending most time on court or at hotel. Every once in a while you can sightsee on a day off but for the most part tennis players are very disciplined. We don’t have the luxury to lose track of time, or get lost at night, there is just so much more to see. For my last few years I truly hope to see a little change for women on tour. The atmosphere needs to improve in tennis. It seems that everything and everyone is too strict. I understand how important the competition is but these people are basically the same players we are with all year round. We see them more than we see our own families. If the atmosphere was a bit more chill and relaxing it would be more enjoyable for everyone…” @miki.buzarnescu Check out full story and others at behindtheracquet.com (link in bio @behindtheracquet )

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What they’re writing

Tumaini Carayol, tennis writer for London’s The Guardian and Observer, from “Tennis makes tentative resumption with some exhibition stuff”:

“On Thursday afternoon in Minsk, elite international athletes returned to competition. Two Belarusians kicked tennis off as the world No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka, and the No. 50 Aliaksandra Sasnovich took to the court. Even in Belarus, where the country has relentlessly carried on as much of the world around it has come to a halt, the scene underlined the new normal.

“The pair humbled themselves to picking up their own balls and their stage was a small indoor hard court lined with one linesman per side and a handful of spectators. After Sabalenka sealed the victory, the two friends were not allowed to embrace. They tapped the other’s racquet and Sabalenka blew a kiss. They laughed.

“Tennis has returned, but with a catch. As an inherently socially distant sport, it is one of the first ones back in some form. As a sprawling globalised professional circuit in the time of travel bans and mandatory quarantines, it is also one of the professional sports at risk of not returning at all in 2020.”

What they’re sharing on social media

Billie Jean King / Giving Christiane Amanpour a virtual tennis lesson

Lara Arruabarrena, Spain, currently ranked No. 149 / Her toughest opponent

Garbiñe Muguruza, Spain, currently ranked No. 16 / Weekend 

Kamakshi Tandon, Tennis.com writer / It’s the beginning of the Open Era …