Patrick McEnroe: Athlete-turned-author understands what matters -- the fans

Patrick McEnroe 1 signing.jpg
WASHINGTON -- I've got to hand it to new author Patrick McEnroe, a former Grand Slam doubles champion, Davis Cup coach, and engaging commentator on ESPN. He is a celebrity who understands that without ticket, book and gear-buying fans, he would have no career: The good life he enjoys is a direct result of what people buy and watch they watch on TV.

I like to see people who get that connection, who understand that that it would be audacious of them to treat those very same folks as a nuisance. 

In town this week for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic that concludes Sunday, he sat down for a signing session to promote his book, "Hardcourt Confidential -- Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches. He made it clear he'd be willing to stay as long as the now famous John Isner match at Wimbledon if that's what it took to accommodate the crowd. 

I watched him shake hands and genuinely engage the people who came up to him. He actually asked them questions while also answering theirs. 

I didn't tell him I still do a little journalism when I approached with my copy. I bought passes for the whole tournament so I could take it in as a fan rather than a reporter. I didn't want any special treatment or false kindness even in a brief encounter.

McEnroe looked me in the eyes and asked me how I would like him to inscribe the book. I respectfully asked to keep it short and simple because of the line behind me. "Great forehand," I said, smiling at the thought of showing the words to all my tennis friends. He asked me a few questions about my game while he wrote, handed the book back to me, and posed for a few photos my girlfriend shot.

I thanked him for the signature and what he does for the game. I've long respected McEnroe for his work to promote the sport I've spent a lifetime loving.

Then I looked down at what he wrote, which was longer than what I had asked him to consider.

"To Chris: Great forehand -- work on that backhand."

I laughed, shook his hand and stepped aside. The book looks promising and I'll crack it open like a new can of tennis balls the moment the tournament ends. 

[Photo courtesy of Won-ok Kim.]