John McEnroe is a bad man to ask about tennis coverage on television. He once estimated the longest he had ever watched a match without interruption was "a minute and a half . . . besides, I got better things to do."
The guy does bring a freshness, understated wit and straightforward style to the job of analyzing the game for the masses, however, and for this all fans should be grateful considering USA Network will be sending along about a hundred hours of U.S. Open coverage beginning Monday.
The cable will have a cast of thousands working the 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and 7:30-11 p.m. sessions daily, what with two studio hosts, two play-by-play announcers and a half-dozen experts at the ready. But there's little doubt the fellow the British press dubbed "SuperBrat" will be the star.
Why? Because McEnroe doesn't pussyfoot around issues. Ask him why some of today's name players aren't more popular and better known by the public and he'll reply: "The game of tennis discourages personality."
Inquire about tennis becoming a game of big hitters with slam-bam points and he'll say: "Technology has had a negative effect on the game. The whole concept has changed and power rules. We have to get away from physical domination and bring strategy back into the game."
You know how after every big match someone scurries down to courtside for a talk with the player(s). McEnroe points out: "The most boring interview in the world is the one right after a match. I never said anything after a match and I have yet to know anyone who did."
With a schedule that includes only the French Open and Wimbledon (for NBC) and the Open, McEnroe doesn't classify xTC himself as an expert on TV, but he has definite ideas on why the game doesn't get better ratings on the tube: "Simple. There are way too many tournaments on. And, sometimes, they're as much as a week old. Besides, who's going to watch a best-of-five match? Not too many. It's not easy to keep people's interest for two or three hours."
If McEnroe's comments end up having too much of a point for the game's traditionalists, they can lower the sound and turn it up when Barry McKay and Tim Mayotte take over (z-z-z-z-z). Doing the experting on women's matches will be Virginia Wade and Tracy Austin.
Of course, CBS will be there telecasting on weekends (for the 25th year), the exception being Sunday, Sept. 5, when the
almighty NFL takes over. The only new voice in the cast that dates back to the introduction of gut strings will be Vitas Gerulaitis.
* Yes, the Washington Redskins are back to selling out exhibition games again, so tonight's 8 p.m. bash against the New York Jets will be on Channel 7. Fortunately, the Orioles playing in Texas begins on channels 2 and 20 at just about the time the football gets boring (8:30).
* Bob Griese, who works as analyst for the Florida State-Kansas Kickoff Classic game tomorrow at noon, says: "Preseason talk of No. 1s [which Florida State is] is stupid and silly. Let's let the teams play, then decide." Following this line of thinking, why then does ABC schedule Griese and play-by-play man Keith Jackson to talk up its college football series every chance it gets? The illusion is often far more interesting than the reality, Bob.
* There's an interesting flap going on over whether Terry O'Neil, former executive producer of NBC Sports, resigned or was shoved out the window. At first, the network said he quit to pursue ownership of a pro franchise with associates, then the word was he didn't want to take a 25 percent cut in salary. Yeah, O'Neil quit, just like I gave up a job in the backcourt of the Boston Celtics 35 years ago so Sam Jones could get more playing time.
* Program notes: TBS carries a celebrity golf benefit tourney tomorrow (2-4 p.m.) featuring Sandy Koufax, Joe DiMaggio and a bunch of other ex-athletes and entertainers who can't seem to come by work on the telly. . . . Channel 50 (Washington) is the only station hereabout carrying the Disneyland Kickoff Classic Sunday night (9) between North Carolina and Southern Cal. . . . The Little League World Series graces ABC tomorrow (3:30 p.m.) amid the usual rash of golf tourneys. The best links presentation will be the World Series of Golf (4 tomorrow, 3:30 p.m. Sunday) with all the tournament winners vying. . . . Home Team Shill (HTS) has the women's round-robin tourney from Rock Creek Park tomorrow eve at 7. . . . The U.S. Gymnastics Championship, otherwise known as the Shannon Miller Show, kicks off tomorrow (8 p.m.) on NBC, but Channel 2 won't be aboard because of an O's-Rangers game at 8:30. WMAR will run a tape Sunday at 1 p.m., then join the network for same-day coverage of the title meet at 7 p.m.