John McEnroe slams Margaret Court as the 'crazy aunt' of tennis

Christopher Knaus
Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

John McEnroe has slammed Margaret Court as the sport’s “crazy aunt” and criticised Tennis Australia’s handling of the “nightmare” she presents.

In a humorous video posted to Twitter by Eurosport UK, McEnroe criticised Court’s controversial comments condemning homosexuality and celebrating apartheid South Africa’s stance on race.

Tennis Australia has faced criticism for its decision to mark 50 years since she completed a calendar grand slam by winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open in one year. The achievement will be celebrated with a special ceremony at Rod Laver Arena on Monday night.

Tennis Australia has attempted to differentiate the celebration of her sporting achievements from any celebration of her character or personal views.

But McEnroe said it simply “doesn’t work that way”.

“It’s the 50th anniversary of Margaret Court’s grand slam, and Tennis Australia is facing a dilemma: what do they do with their crazy aunt?” McEnroe said.

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“They finally decided to invite her, but it came with a twist: ‘we will recognise what she did in 1970, but we won’t celebrate the person’.”

“Huh? Well it doesn’t work that way. You can’t separate the person from her achievements.”

McEnroe pleaded with Serena Williams to win two more grand slams and surpass Court’s record of 24. Doing so would allow the tennis world to consign Court and her “offensive views” to the past “where they both belong”, he said.

“To the credit of Tennis Australia, Margaret Court’s tribute is counter-balanced by the organisation of the biggest LGBTIQ tennis tournament in the world at Melbourne Park,” McEnroe said.

“Organisers call it the glam slam. Margaret would probably call it hell on Earth.”

Martina Navratilova, who is openly gay, also spoke out on Monday, saying: “It’s just unfortunate because I think what Margaret Court doesn’t realise is how many people she hurts with her rhetoric.”

“She can believe whatever she wants but she’s actually hurting people and that’s not OK.”

The controversy surrounding Court has posed a headache for Australia Open organisers. Chief executive Craig Tiley said she was “one of the icons of sport in Australia” and would be recognised as such throughout the tournament.

But Tennis Australia has also issued statements distancing itself from her homophobic views.

“As often stated, Tennis Australia does not agree with Margaret’s personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years,” it said earlier this month.

“They do not align with our values of equality, diversity and inclusion.”

Tennis Australia has previously faced calls to remove Court’s name from the Margaret Court Arena at the home of the Australian Open, Melbourne Park. Her views have also led to criticism from current and former players, including Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova.