A few months ago, I had the privilege of seeing Jimmy Connors (who is now 61 years old) play tennis in person again, for the first time in probably a quarter of a century. When I was a kid, I saw him play at a pro tournament in Ohio and got his autograph at the urging of my dad, who had collected athlete and movie-star autographs as a kid.
Connors is my all-time favorite player, so it was fun to see him play a set with John McEnroe for the first time in 15 years, along with Ivan Lendl, who played a set with Pat Cash. I then was treated to a quick "final" set between winners of the first bracket: Cash and McEnroe. This was all part of a plan to surprise my dad with a father/son weekend of classic tennis.
As I wrote about here, dad introduced me to tennis at an early age, and we enjoyed plenty of championship matches together when I was growing up, usually on television but also in person in Ohio at the ATP tournament. Unfortunately, dad was ill and couldn't make it to the exhibition, but my lovely wife went along and seemed to have a great time despite the $9 beers and the saltiest jumbo pretzels either of us had ever eaten.
This event was a one of two-night, two-city "champions challenge" for tennis legends "over the age of 30." At least that's what the fine print said, but it could have been 50, as our heroes were mostly pushing 60 at this point, with Mac now 55 and Lendl 54. Cash was the lone spring chicken at 48. When I had purchased the tickets, Mats Wilander was on the bill, but he had to drop out for some reason and was replaced by Cash, giving the promoters an opportunity to hype the match-up as a throwback sort-of repeat of the 1984 "Super Saturday" final rounds of the U.S. Open, wherein events from a three-decade-old "greatest day in tennis history" could be, at least in part, re-enacted.
Of course, this time around there were no epic five-set slug-fests, and in fact, each "match" consisted of only a single set, but Johnny Mac emerged victorious once again, easily the lightest, fittest and fastest of the four aging champions.
Connors, the eldest, took some flack from the stands due to his conservative outfit, which consisted of a sweater-vest and khaki slacks. One fan yelled "I DON'T NEED NO DAMN SHORTS," and Jimmy walked over and gave him a mouthful, though it was tough to hear every word from the other side of the court. In fact, I emailed the tour manager later to suggest lapel/lavalier mics for the players, as more than half of the fun at a show like this is hearing the witty banter between old rivals and fans, but I got no response. Maybe they'll consider them for next time.
Jimmy was a little more stiff and a little slower than when I saw him last, but I guess three hip surgeries will do that to you. Despite a lessening of speed, Jimmy showed that he still knew his way around a court and could hit with the best of them.
During one lengthy rally with McEnroe, he shouted "ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL AN OLD MAN?" before huffing and puffing his way to the net to finish the point. He also gave a ball-girl a chance to serve to McEnroe, while he comically enacted her role, becoming a ball-boy on the sideline for a few points. It was fun to go back in time for a few hours. I hope next year they bring Borg and Agassi.