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Why John McEnroe, of all people, is the voice-over for this teen drama

The tennis legend also shared his thoughts ahead of the U.S. Open on star Naomi Osaka speaking out about her mental health struggles.
/ Source: TODAY

One chance meeting at an Oscar party in 2019 was all it took for John McEnroe to go from tennis legend to a voice-over star on Netflix.

McEnroe, 62, described on TODAY Thursday how an unplanned encounter with Mindy Kaling led to him doing narration work on her Netflix show, "Never Have I Ever," a coming-of-age comedy about an Indian American high school girl loosely based on Kaling's life.

The seven-time Grand Slam winner and current tennis analyst first had the idea of doing voice-over work when he was in his 20s. He was recognized in a store in New York City by his voice despite being in disguise to keep from getting mobbed by fans.

John McEnroe provides narration and also makes an appearance in the Netflix show "Never Have I Ever," co-created by Mindy Kaling. Lara Solanki / Netflix

"I have a somewhat unique voice, maybe I could (do voice-over work)," he told Al Roker and Sheinelle Jones on the 3rd hour of TODAY. "Thirty years later, fast forward, I met Mindy Kaling at a Vanity Fair Oscar party. I'm going in to take a photo, she's coming out, she goes, 'Oh, my God, I have this idea that you'd be the narrator of a show I'm making for Netflix.'

"And I'm like, 'Yeah right. The check's in the mail.' ... Nine out of 10 things don't happen, but it actually did happen, and actually God forbid I'm the narrator for a young high school girl, Indian American girl trying to deal with growing up, and I'm sort of like her alter ego, her uncle. And I'm thinking, 'How the hell did I get this?' I'm wondering the same thing, but I believe in a weird way, it's worked."

Squarespace and Netflix decided to partner with McEnroe on a campaign to build his voice-over career.

McEnroe provides the narration for the Netflix show's main character, 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. McEnroe is also the idol of Devi's late father on the show and often reflects in funny asides about his career in the '80s in which he was the scourge of tennis umpires.

He will be back for more, as the show was recently picked up for a third season by Netflix.

McEnroe also remains a fixture in the tennis world, where he works as a television analyst. He is gearing up for this year's U.S. Open, which begins Monday in New York at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

On the women's side, star Naomi Osaka will be seeking her third U.S. Open title in her first Grand Slam tournament since winning the Australian Open in February.

In May, she withdrew from the French Open after declining to speak to reporters during the tournament, citing effects on her mental health. Osaka then skipped another Grand Slam, Wimbledon, before competing in the Tokyo Olympics, where she lit the flame in the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony.

Osaka most recently played in a tournament in Cincinnati, which included her briefly leaving a virtual press conference in tears following a reporter's question. She has become a prominent athlete in the conversation about mental health.

"As far as Naomi goes, I commend her, and I think what she did was great," McEnroe said about her speaking out. "The part that I worry about is that there's going to be now extra scrutiny on her instead of less scrutiny.

"And she's an introverted, shy person to begin with, so all of a sudden what she thought was a good thing, and most of us did, went from bad to worse at the French Open because all of a sudden they were going to fine her."

McEnroe added that French Open organizers threatening to default her from the tournament for failing to speak to the media was "lose-lose for tennis, lose for her." As far as the U.S. Open, he said she is the best hard-court player in the world, so "if she plays her best, she's going to win this tournament."

Osaka is one of the favorites along with reigning Wimbledon champion Ashleigh Barty, who is coming off a win in the tournament in Cincinnati. Superstar Serena Williams has withdrawn from the tournament, announcing Wednesday that she is still recovering from a hamstring injury.