Navratilova and McEnroe say sorry but it’s time Margaret Court did the same | Kevin Mitchell

Tennis Australia managed to smooth over the latest controversy surrounding Court yet it is neither they nor the celebrated commentators who should be apologising

Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe, for once, had nothing of substance to apologise for. Nevertheless, two of the most outspoken voices in tennis, went through the motions here on Wednesday to soothe the ego of Margaret Court, Australia’s finest ever woman player, who is also a homophobe of no regrets and holds views that went out of fashion in the 19th century, as well as the sensitivities of Craig Tiley, whose normally excellent stewardship of the Australian Open has looked more like the captain of the Hesperus ignoring an advancing storm that his drunken first mate could see coming.

Court probably did not have to lean on Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia and the tournament director of the Australian Open, to demand that Navratilova and McEnroe apologise for suggesting that her eponymous stadium be renamed after Evonne Goolagong Cawley. He sniffed the mounting embarrassment for himself.

After Navratilova used the still-live microphone on an empty umpire’s chair on an outside court on Tuesday to signal her and McEnroe’s objections, Tennis Australia went into the sort of damage limitation familiar to politicians who – let’s say – are out of the country on holidays when they should be at their post dealing with a national emergency. A statement concluded: “Two high-profile guests have breached these protocols and we are working through this with them.”

It sounded like a couple of jail escapees had been recaptured and were undergoing re-education chained to a wall in a dungeon under the supervision of Nurse Ratched.

It was easy to feel some sympathy for TA. No sooner had the choking air from surrounding bushfires eased to manageable proportions than Tiley and his team were lumbered with a moral dilemma that, to be fair to them, was not of their making. It was Court, invited over from Perth to be recognised with a replica trophy on the 50th anniversary of her calendar grand slam, who would not let it lie.

Rod Laver presents Margaret Court with a replica of the trophy on Monday to commemorate 50 years since she won all four grand slams in 1970.
Rod Laver presents Margaret Court with a replica of the trophy on Monday to commemorate 50 years since she won all four grand slams in 1970. Photograph: James Gourley/BPI/Shutterstock

Court demanded recognition for her tennis – rightly so – and now TA had to seek an apology from two former players who disagreed strongly with her non-tennis views but who, fortuitously, had given the headmaster a way to punish them, because they had infringed “safety protocols”.

There are probably more safety protocols in Australia than exist in a humidicrib. Navratilova’s hijacking of a microphone was obviously a very dangerous transgression indeed.

Anyway, she said sorry. Sort of. Talking on the Tennis Channel (rather than risking further opprobrium by snatching another microphone), she said, “I got in trouble. I am sorry. I broke protocol. I had no idea there was this kind of protocol.”

McEnroe, whose part in this life-threatening villainy was to hold up a banner that bore the anarchic words, “Evonne Goolagong Arena”, danced a similarly silly tango.

“Admittedly, I was never one to study the rule book carefully or, for that matter, even at times abide by the rules,” he said in a statement, stopping only to throw in a joke against himself.

He added, “For that I apologise to Tennis Australia and recognise and appreciate the great job they have done to make the Australian Open a great event for the fans, players and myself.” He might have added, “And will you now please take that gun out of my back.”

No shots were fired. No blood was spilt. The Hesperus did not crash on the rocks. Yet, the Margaret Court saga will rumble on. Because, it seems, she will never apologise.

Contributor

Kevin Mitchell

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
John McEnroe slams Margaret Court as the 'crazy aunt' of tennis
McEnroe hits out at controversial Australian legend after her achievements are marked in Melbourne

Kevin Mitchell at Melbourne Park

27, Jan, 2020 @6:26 AM

Article image
Tennis Australia treads warily for Margaret Court’s slam anniversary
The Australian Open is paying tribute to Margaret Court on the 50th anniversary of her calendar year grand slam but disdain for her views is making it a muted celebration

Jonathan Howcroft

24, Jan, 2020 @7:01 PM

Article image
Martina Navratilova takes fight on-court for name change to Evonne Goolagong Arena
The former world No 1 was cut off in mid-sentence when she climbed into an empty umpire’s chair at Melbourne Park to push for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed

Kevin Mitchell at Melbourne Park

28, Jan, 2020 @6:23 AM

Article image
Sport and the climate crisis: time for the travelling circus to just stay put | Marina Hyde
How long can sport, like Hollywood, continue to wave away the contradictions between its activities and its supposed ideals?

Marina Hyde

15, Jan, 2020 @11:17 AM

Article image
Caroline Wozniacki: ‘Tennis is what I’ve done my whole life … it’s crazy it’s coming to an end’
The Dane is retiring after the Australian Open and says that while she is looking forward to a quieter life she can look back with pride at a grand slam title and 70 weeks as world No 1

Simon Cambers in Melbourne

22, Jan, 2020 @12:40 PM

Article image
'God, that was tough': Federer frazzled after surviving thriller with Millman
Roger Federer pulled off a last-ditch escape in the final set tiebreak to defeat Australia’s John Millman

Tumaini Carayol

24, Jan, 2020 @2:01 PM

Article image
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic ease into third round of Australian Open
An undercooked Roger Federer and a rather more battle-hardened Novak Djokovic each cruised into the third round at Melbourne with straight-sets wins

Tumaini Carayol

22, Jan, 2020 @4:34 PM

Article image
Cameron Norrie’s new year resolve faces major test from Pierre-Hugues Herbert
Cameron Norrie does not lack for heart or self-belief but it is difficult to see him getting out of the first round at the Australian Open

Kevin Mitchell in Melbourne

19, Jan, 2020 @2:42 PM

Article image
Garbiñe Muguruza primes power game for Australian Open final against Kenin
Coach Conchita Martínez hailed Garbiñe Muguruza’s controlled aggression as she prepared to take on Sofia Kenin, who is the youngest Australian Open singles finalist since 2008

Kevin Mitchell at Melbourne Park

31, Jan, 2020 @12:22 PM

Article image
Roger Federer bows to injury and Djokovic but winning belief remains | Simon Cambers
The days when he dominated the Tour are well behind him but the Swiss player still believes he can win a 21st grand slam title

Simon Cambers at Melbourne Park

30, Jan, 2020 @2:37 PM