The Powershares Tennis Series has been a thing since 2011. I heard about it a couple of months ago.
Lots of old news is new news to me. I’m seeing “MASH” for the first time thanks to an oldies television network called MeTV.
The Powershares series features a long list of legendary tennis icons. They travel to tournaments around the country to play exhibition matches.
That’s how I happened upon Andy Roddick, Mark Philippoussis, James Blake, and John McEnroe. The four paired off for two one -set semi-finals followed by a one-set championship match.
I always liked watching Roddick and Philippoussis—both known for their cannon serves. I always enjoyed Blake’s gritty never give up on-court hustle.
And then there’s McEnroe. Johnny Mac is almost as famous for his argumentative behavior as he is for his Hall of Fame tennis and broadcasting accomplishments.
The crowd wanted to see the brash, bratty McEnroe. They wanted to hear him say things like, “Do you have any problems, other than that you’re unemployed, a moron and a dork?”
They wanted him to throw a tantrum or his racquet and rant, “You cannot be serious!”
But that is not the McEnroe who competed that night. During the first semi, Roddick and Philippoussis joked, kidded and complained more than McEnroe even talked in the second.
You don’t believe me, but it is so.
When McEnroe and Blake were introduced, the woman next to me gasped, “McEnroe looks so old! He’s got to be older than me, at least 65.”
“He just turned 58,” I said.
She did not believe me and grabbed her phone to Google him—a waste of time.
True, the silver-haired 58-year-old was the odd man out. His fellow competitors ranged in age from 34 to 40. They knew each other well, having played against one another on the pro tour.
Maybe that’s why Blake said so little in his match with McEnroe—out of respect for the icon he admired.
Johnny Mac wasn’t completely silent. He made a couple of comments on out calls, but his voice and temperament lacked the intensity of old.
His carriage also set him apart. McEnroe moved pretty well during points, but he shuffled slowly and deliberately between them—even before his set began.
Mid-way, a ball landed close to the tape, but was called out. In the most amusing moment of the set, a spectator shouted, “You cannot be serious!”
McEnroe turned in the direction of the voice and put his hands on his hips. Nothing more.
He held his own against 37-year-old Blake. He ran down a several of the younger player’s bullets—shots I thought were destined to be winners.
McEnroe also showed off the court smarts he’s known for, mixing up groundstrokes with spin and touch volleys of old.
At first, I was disappointed with this player that was but a shadow of the fiery McEnroe of my youth.
Then, I said to myself, “Self, maybe he doesn’t feel well. Maybe he’s had a bad day. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s tired of being remembered as a tennis brat.”
John McEnroe has always been loyal to his sport. A part of five winning USA teams, he never turned down an opportunity to represent his country in Davis Cup play.
He’s been lauded for his philanthropy and his work to cultivate young players. And tennis commentators around the globe pale in comparison to John and his brother Patrick.
He wasn’t the feisty John McEnroe the night I saw him, but Blake and Philippoussis more than made up for that with their comic antics in the final.
John McEnroe played his game and disappeared into the stadium tunnel, allowing the winner to bask in his moment.