Apr/19

5

McEnroe Plays At Innisbrook Senior Event

By Scoop Malinowski

John McEnroe fans can rejoice. The King is Back and he’s not done yet.

Late last year McEnroe said he would stop competing in the ATP Senior Tour and the tournament in December in London would be his last. But McEnroe returned again to senior competition yesterday afternoon at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Florida at the Invesco Series ADT Champions Classic.

McEnroe played Jim Courier and lost in a very competitive tiebreaker 7-6 (7-4), still flashing his genius court skills and love for the sport. In the morning the recently turned 60 tennis legend did a pro am hit with James Blake and sixteen aspiring players for an hour. Then a quick press conference, lunch with a VIP group and then battling with Courier in a packed stadium, full to capacity.

Mardy Fish was the fourth competitor and he noted that it’s McEnroe “that moves the needle” for senior events in America, hinting that without McEnroe’s participation, Courier’s senior tour might struggle to thrive as it has in recent years.

The wooden board sign at the Innisbook Country Club entrance, contained only one tennis name to promote: “MCENROE IS COMING” it announced. And the tennis fans responded in big numbers. The event – the first pro tennis event at the venue in years – was such a major success, organizers had to construct a special new VIP deck to sell more tickets.

McEnroe is the headliner and he still draws them in like a magnet. Think about it, the biggest name in American tennis right now is not Jack Sock or John Isner or Andre Agassi…it’s JOHN MCENROE.

The iconic American gave the fans the show they wanted, demonstrating his magical tennis and theatrics, blowing out balls, feigned anger, line call drama. He moves around the court with the same agility and athleticism he always has, he still hits a speedy, spinny ball. He still makes those deft touch volleys. Somehow he still has it.

While the senior action dominated the grounds, there is also an ITF $80,000 professional tournament being contested with several name players in action yesterday including Naomi Osaka’s sister Mari who lost 76 64 to No. 2 seed Kurumi Nara.

16 year old American Whitney Osuigwe, who just gave Danielle Collins all she could handle at the Miami Open, losing 67 26, looked like a future star crunching a Czech player (Monika Kilnarova) I had never heard of before 60 63.

 

The top seed is Nicole Gibbs, trying to get back to the top 100, survived a three setter with Gabriela Dabrowski.

And the world’s second best doubles player Barbora Krejcikova, who won Wimbledon and French Open last year with her partner Siniakova, defeated Sarand Manaz, pardon me, Sanaz Marand, in straight sets.

At the women’s matches there were a scattering of a few dozen fans, as most came to see the seniors who played on the stadium. In the first match of the day at 2, Blake beat Fish and then Blake overpowered Courier, age 48, in the final 6-3. 39 year old Blake’s forehand was the biggest weapon of the four man draw.

One question persists though…How much longer will McEnroe keep playing these senior events and who can Courier find to replace his main attraction? Pete Sampras? Andre Agassi?

The Invesco Series Tour continues with the next event in Charleston tomorrow, with a draw of Courier, Lleyton Hewitt, Mats Wilander and Andy Roddick.

McEnroe’s next appearance will be in Maui on May 4, with Mardy Fish, Tommy Haas and Michael Chang.

Then the Newport field on July 21 includes Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Jim Courier, Todd Martin and Mats Wilander.

Notes:

Something happened I never saw before in pro tennis. Osaka served and her Yonex slipped out of her hands. Her opponent kept her focus and made the return. Osaka managed to pick up the racquest and resume the point, even hitting two more baseline shots before netting a volley into the top of the net to lose the point. Osaka had the break in the first set but could not close it out. I spoke with her coach, a Portuguese coach who worked with Joao Sousa and Federico Gill and he revealed Osaka had a shoulder issue which caused her to miss over a month and she wasn’t ready 100% for Miami Open where she lost to Osuigwe but she had to accept that wildcard. Osaka is under enormous pressure with her 300 range ranking and playing in the shadow of her sister who is ranked no. 1 in the world.

Barbora Krejcikova told me an interesting story about how she started to work with Czech legend Jana Novotna from age 18 to 21. After her junior career, Barbora read that Novotna was living in a village not far from her residence in Czech Republic. She wrote a letter and delivered it personally to Novotna’s home where she found the former Wimbledon champion outside with her dog. Novotna liked the idea of helping Krejcikova and the two started working together and sustained a relationship for three years until 2016 when Novotna’s health decline (she passed away in 2017 from cancer).

Krejcikova prospered from the education from a tennis legend and won two majors last year at Wimbledon and French Open. She also won Australian mixed doubles this year with Rajeev Ram. Krejcikova, 23, said she learned a lot from Novotna’s career stories and her importance of reminding the player to make sure to enjoy playing tennis and the competition no matter how stressful any match or the struggles of a pro player happens to become. Always find a way to enjoy the tennis.

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6 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 5, 2019 at 11:43 am

    The stringer told me McEnroe uses Babolat strings, forgot the exact kind, he had one of his Head racquets strung at 50 and the other at 55.

  • Dan Markowitz · April 5, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Interesting because his academy has deal with Solinco strings. Got my son hooked on them and even though he gets 50 per cent sponsorship they’re nearly twice as expeyas the Genesis strings we were using before.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 5, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Dan why do the Solinco strings feel superior for Cal? How so?

  • Dan Markowitz · April 5, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    He says it gives him more power. Pretty cool thing, we were just hitting at McEnroe’s in Westchester and we were getting off the court and a lot of balls were still on the court and I was picking up, and the guy coming on the court said, “You can leave them out.”

    And by his voice I knew right away it was Pat McEnroe. I said to him, “You’re getting better and better with your tv commentary. I’ve always liked your announcing, but I feel you’re even more natural now.”

    Pat said, “Practice. The more you do it, the better you get.”

    Then his daughter, who’s 13, was warming up before getting on the court with Pat, and I said if he’d like, Callum could hit some balls with Victoria. As she warmed up, Cal hit with Pat and Callum got a great kick out of it.

    It always interests me when you someone like Pat McEnroe, who was a good pro player, very good doubles player, but is in his 50’s now and you wonder how much he plays. But when you watch him hit balls and you see how well he still moves, it’s quite something to see because you realize these former pro players were and still are tremendous athletes.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 5, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Patrick McEnroe never got enough credit for his playing career imo. Grand slam semis in singles, Grand Slam title in doubles. And one ATP singles title in Sydney in 1995. Also one of the best TV commentators. Very rare that the younger brother or sibling of an all time great or major champion is able to achieve a successful career like Patrick McEnroe has. I can’t think of a single one. Federico Coria fell short. Zverev’s big brother didn’t do anything major.

  • Dan Markowitz · April 5, 2019 at 11:38 pm

    I’m going to tell Patrick that the next time I see him. You don’t think Markko Djokovic has been a big success? How about Gerard Melzer or Tory Gambill.

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