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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No doting ladies or teenyboppers hover around McEnroe. No queries about matches gone by. He signs autographs perfunctorily. Well, OK, motions McEnroe to one fan with a camera, posing for a few seconds before donning his shades and strutting off. At sponsor parties, McEnroe dresses up and works the crowd with all the awkwardness of an adolescent implored to chat with his grandparents. His pro-am attendance is sporadic. Don't even think about seeing him give a clinic.
Then again, he's John McEnroe, tennis' great artist--and Connors' heir apparent as the Nuveen Tour's marquee player. But with his time spread between his family, his SoHo art gallery, his fledgling music career and broadcasting, McEnroe has indicated that he's not so keen on assuming that responsibility. "There's a lot more dirty, grimy conditioning work I'd have to do to play this tour full-time," he says.
Aside from McEnroe, Nuveen Tour players are omnipresent at tournament sites. Munching on his third hot dog of the day in front of the Pebble Beach pro shop, Connors explains that "it ain't none of this 'play your match and boogie back to the hotel room' stuff."
Twenty-four recreational players are spread out on two courts. John Lloyd and Johan Kriek are conducting a clinic. Pebble Beach tennis director Mike Trabert (son of Hall of Famer Tony Trabert) and his colleague, Marc Moran, are feeding balls and volleying them back. Lloyd is giving technical pointers. "Turn your shoulder sooner," he shouts in his polite British accent. "That's the way," he says as a woman runs up and knocks off a volley.
Gathering the group around him, Lloyd tells them how much they can learn from watching the Nuveen Tour pros. "Watch how early someone like Connors prepares for the ball," he says. "See how he's paying attention, getting his racket back with his shoulders, continually moving and putting his entire body into the shot."
Cruising around the adjacent court, Kriek is happy to see how eager his group is to run down the balls Trabert is feeding into the corners. The attendees have been pumped up by the presence of greatness. "I'm a big believer in visualization," says Trabert. "When people see these guys up close, they get to see that technique. It helps them both as spectators and as players."
These clinics are one of the primary attractions for corporate sponsors. "We love being able to entertain customers at these tournaments," says John Lotka, Nuveen's vice president of advertising and promotion. "There's a lot of intimacy we can establish around tennis. The players, like Connors, Lloyd and others, help us tremendously with that."
But you don't have to always be part of the sponsor's network to participate in these events. At the Corel Champions event that was held last May in Rockville, Maryland, dozens of players 35 and over paid a scant $30 for a clinic, dinner and a ticket to the evening's matches.
Many fans also congregate around each Nuveen Tour stop's pro-am, wherein eight of the players team with dozens of sponsor guests in a half-day odyssey of Walter Mitty proportions.
"OK, big boy," Connors shouts to a big-serving weekend player named Dennis, "bring it on."
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