x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Court legends revive memories of golden era

McEnroe and Connors thrill the crowd at Flushing Meadows with a nostalgic knockabout in the shadow of the Arthur Ashe stadium.

John McEnroe, left, and Jimmy Conners talk after hitting a few balls.
John McEnroe, left, and Jimmy Conners talk after hitting a few balls.

NEW YORK // The practice Court No 4 was the venue for a rare sight for tennis fans as two legends - John "Mac" McEnroe and Jimmy "Jimbo" Connors - came together to knock a few balls on Friday. The two left-handed players - who defined a generation and won 15 grand slam titles while they were at it - traded shots in the shadow of the Arthur Ashe stadium just like in the old days.

"Definitely brings back a few good memories," McEnroe said. It evoked nostalgia among the fans as well as the usual crowd of about 200 autograph hunters started buzzing when it became clear there was something more than routine going on out there. McEnroe said it was only the second time they had hit a few balls to each other in the last several years. They were only hitting but it was still a treat to hear McEnroe grunt when he uncoiled for that big serve, then see Connors scoot inside the line to return it with his patented two-handed backhand. "Might be better than anything going on out there," said Tony Park, a fan, pointing toward where the professionals were playing.

McEnroe won four US Open titles from 1979-84. Connors won five from 1974-83, though his most electric year might have been his run to the semi-finals in 1991 at age 39 - during which he famously yelled at the camera that he was simply giving the New York fans what they wanted. It was the golden era of American tennis compared to this day when Andy Roddick is the only American in top 20. America has not had a good rivalry since Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi went at it in the late 1990s.

McEnroe, who is planning to open an academy, believes sports are cyclical and America's magic time will be rekindled some day. "Who knows what will happen?" he said. "It wasn't like we were sitting there 10 years ago saying some kid from a fairly well-off family in Switzerland would be the greatest player ever, or some kid from Mallorca would be there to challenge him. I think what kids need is some inspiration, and they're not getting any inspiration."

* AP