Tennis' Old Guard
A New Senior Tour is restaging Some of the Great Court Rivalries of the Past 20 Years
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96
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Borg waves back, swings a few classic services and completes the practice session. Vilas signs half a dozen autographs and gathers his racket bag.
A half hour after the workout, Borg, Vilas and Connors are in a large tent. It's filled with approximately 60 guests of Challenge sponsor Quality Inns, a dozen print reporters, three TV cameras and assorted tour officials. The trio is now joined by McEnroe. Just arrived on a 7 a.m. flight out of New York's Kennedy Airport, McEnroe's wearing a New York Rangers hat, a white-and-brown Nike jacket and red suede Nike shoes that look 20 years out of date.
A Nuveen Tour rep turns on a large video screen. As images of the players flash by, Rod Stewart's voice comes on, singing that Bob Dylan homage to youth and tenacity, "Forever Young." Here's Borg dashing, Connors lunging, Vilas scampering, McEnroe darting. May you always be courageous/Stand upright and be strong/May you stay forever young. Two nights later, at a dinner Quality Inns hosts for 700 VIPs, the nostalgia rush from the video will electrify the crowd into hearty applause.
Afterwards, McEnroe and Connors begin practicing. Connors is a mechanic, the well-trained technician who knows how to put every piece together. Just look at that backhand, ain't she a beaut? McEnroe is an artist, the tortured soul who'd prefer working alone on the canvas. I'm concentrating, would you get the hell out of here?
The tennis roadies who'll be producing the event are checking out the acoustics, as "The Girl from Ipanema" softly echoes over the speakers. The workout moves along in Zen-like tranquillity. No bad calls to glare at. No umpires to yell at. Just Jimmy and John, spinning and bashing, gliding and grunting.
In the middle of a Wimbledon semifinal match, Jimbo once told McEnroe that "my two-year-old is more mature than you." McEnroe once said that "no one could be more phony" than Connors. It's all water under the bridge.
"You hit that line, Jimbo."
"Good volley, Mac."
It's as if these two hotheads realized something about each other: rivalries make your greatness look that much more vivid. Ali needed Frazier. Bette Davis needed Joan Crawford. Montgomery needed Rommel. Neither of these guys ever needed Ivan Lendl. "Jimmy's the most charismatic player in tennis history," says McEnroe. "If everybody in the sport tried as much as Jimmy, tennis would be in a lot better shape."
"Along with Pancho Gonzalez, Mac's the one guy I'd have play for my life," says Connors.
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