Senior tennis: John McEnroe wins, Ivan Lendl provides drama in Charlotte

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comMarch 14, 2014 

The biggest upset Thursday night at Charlotte’s senior tennis event?

John McEnroe – the eventual winner – wasn’t the one who threw a fit.

Ivan Lendl caused a 10-minute delay in the deciding tiebreaker, refusing to play after a McEnroe serve he thought was out was instead called an ace. With the crowd booing and clapping – and a few people giving up and leaving – the umpire warned Lendl several times that he must play and eventually assessed him a point penalty that gave McEnroe a 5-4 lead.

Lendl then looked like he was about to leave the court.

“It was awesome,” McEnroe said later of Lendl’s tantrum. “He melted down.”

But McEnroe – well-known during his playing days for his own delaying and arguing tactics – came over to talk to Lendl and eventually gave the point penalty back.

They played on from 4-all in the tiebreaker, with Lendl making a couple of late backhand errors that gave McEnroe the win, 7-6 (7-5) before an estimated crowd of 4,000 at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The event was an encore performance of one of the most well-known days in men’s tennis – Super Saturday in 1984 at the U.S. Open, when Lendl edged Pat Cash in five long sets and McEnroe had beaten Jimmy Connors in five sets as well. McEnroe then beat Lendl in the final the next day.

The results in Charlotte ended up exactly the same way as 30 years ago in New York, with Lendl and McEnroe both advancing to the final and McEnroe winning.

McEnroe has been the dominant force on this tour for former world champion tennis players over the age of 30. McEnroe came into the evening already having clinched the No.1 Powershares Series ranking for the senior season.

Lendl had nipped Cash, 7-6 (9-7), in the second semifinal. Lendl saved five set points in the tiebreaker, including two with aces and another on a forehand rocket.

In the first semifinal, McEnroe beat longtime rival Connors, 6-4. It was the second time they had faced each other in 15 years. On Wednesday night in Nashville, McEnroe beat Connors by the exact same score.

Connors, 61, played Thursday’s entire match in long khaki pants, looking a lot like a guy who just had come home from working an office job. “I didn’t expect that,” McEnroe said.

Connors has had three hip replacements and his court movement was by far the worst of the four senior players. Connors nearly fell one time on a low backhand, saying afterward: “Once I go down, it’s tough to get back up.”

McEnroe and Connors used to avoid speaking to each other for months at a time while on tour and were bitter rivals. But they have developed more of a friendship in later years.

McEnroe nearly hit Connors in the crotch with one powerful serve Thursday.

“I’ve been trying to do that for 35 years,” McEnroe joked. “And I’m getting closer.”

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