McEnroe’s antics on full display at the Greenbrier
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- John McEnroe isn't known as the bad boy of tennis anymore, but the route he took to earn that reputation - intentional or not - has helped turn him into a fan favorite.
McEnroe lost to Pete Sampras 6-3, 3-6 (10-7) in the Champions Tennis Classic at the Greenbrier Resort on Saturday in an exhibition battle between members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
The guy who once called a chair umpire a "jerk" played to the modest crowd of 500, made playful comments to Saturday's chair umpire, Bruce Harrison, the head women's tennis coach at Radford University. He also joked with line judges while throwing a few jabs at his friend, Sampras - against whom the 53-year-old lost to in the 1990 U.S. Open semifinals when Sampras was a mere 19 years old.
Following a rally on the game's first point in which Sampras had his counterpart running from sideline to sideline, McEnroe said, "... don't want too many of those."
A call went his way during the third game, after which he told the umpire, "Finally some correct calls after 30 years. Where were you when I needed you?"
Sampras hit a drop shot that McEnroe failed to reach, prompting the response, "I thought you said you wouldn't hit that shot."
The crowd, umpire and judges quickly warmed up to McEnroe's antics.
After the second set and before beginning the 10-point tiebreaker at the Greenbrier, McEnroe threw his T-shirt into the crowd and changed into one that included the phrase for which he's most famous: "You cannot be serious."
McEnroe was a polarizing figure during a 15-year professional career (1978-92), but he received a warm reception on Saturday - although much of the crowd appeared to pull for Sampras.
"Tennis was really growing and it was exciting to be part of it, so I wore my heart on my sleeve and went overboard at times," said McEnroe, who brought his parents, John and Kay, along for the trip. "I think that people respect different things. They respect that Pete handled it with class and dignity. Other people, they want to see you go crazy. That's what makes it interesting.
"I'm amazed at how well these people are able to keep their composure. Based on how I was, it was difficult to keep my composure at times, but sometimes it fueled me in a positive way."
McEnroe, who is a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion and holds the record for most mixed doubles titles (71), said he was a product of his environment.
"I lived in New York, that was par for the course," he said. "I was surprised at how quiet everyone was."
He has never beaten Sampras in an ATP match, and although Saturday's didn't count, Sampras also won that one. Still, McEnroe had six aces to five for Sampras, who is 12 years his junior.
McEnroe also broke Sampras' serve in the first set and while they didn't blister past his opponent, he had other serves that weren't returnable.
The savvy McEnroe didn't utilize the serve-and-volley for which he had become famous.
He was successful with a gift for gab that he has parlayed into a successful position as tennis color commentator during Grand Slam events.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.