To many, the thought of an almost-53-year-old stripping off his sweaty lime-green tennis shirt and throwing it into the crowd after an exhibition win might seem corny. But to the 5,157 in attendance at the SAP Open last night it made perfect sense.
American tennis legend John McEnroe will turn 53 on February 16th, but he's aging slower than that on the tennis court. There were times where he looked like he was in his Grand Slam-winning, opponent-intimidating prime last night as he confidently assumed the leadership role with 19-year-old partner, American Jack Sock.
Even though he’s mellowed (slightly) and his hair seems to get more and more silver by the set, McEnroe was vintage McEnroe last night, as he and Sock easily dispatched Gael Monfils and Steve Johnson in an exhibition, 6-4, 6-4.
To call him entertaining would be an understatement. This is the man who got down on his chest face-to-face with Sock to search for a ball mark on the line, the man who pulled his shirt over his head just prior to returning serve from Frenchman Gael Monfils. His game may not be improving any longer, but his ability to keep a crowd enthused, engaged and impressed appears to be.
Oh, and he can still play, too.
There was the corkscrew slice serve, bending far beyond the doubles alley on the ad side; there were the soft hands, taking the steam off 100 mph topspin forehands and punching them back into the open areas of the court; there was that ugly duckling backhand that somehow found the doubles alley time and time again while returning; there was the uncanny doubles court sense, as Mac placed the ball everywhere that his opponent's were not; there was that overhead that he never, ever misses.
It was all on display, and for the wildly entertained fans on hand, the event served as more than a reminder that McEnroe used to play the game at the highest level: It served notice that a 53-year-old like McEnroe can still outplay world class players that are 30 years his junior on the doubles court.
Sure, he might not outlast them, but for short stints, Johnny Mac can certainly outclass them.
Of course, when it comes to talking about the sport, he can do that too. Here are some highlights of McEnroe's post-match press conference, where he delved into the prospects of young American Jack Sock, his own abilities as a doubles player, John Isner's recent success, and more:
McEnroe on Jack Sock:
"I think he's got a lot of upside. He's got some serious firepower, he's a good athlete, so I think he's got top ten potential. I really do, I mean whether or not you get to where your challenging these guys for winning majors -- that's what we really want. I think he's going to get to the top ten."
McEnroe on his post-tennis career:
"As I got older maybe I appreciated sort of what I had. Some of the things, for example the commentating, which I didn't know I would like, it turned out to be something that worked out well for me and I enjoyed, because I just do the big events. And playing, I didn't realize that I'd enjoy getting out there as much as I did, at my tennis academy, going out against 12 and 14 year-olds and sort of enjoying that. So it all sort of came to a place that I really wasn't sure that I'd get to but I'm happy that I got there."
McEnroe on playing a good guy on NBC's 30 Rock:
"I'm trying to stretch myself. I'm trying to play a part where I'm not playing myself. So this was a good first step. I was the good guy instead of the bad guy. I think I'm almost there. Maybe Lorne or someone will give me a shot at playing someone where I'm not playing myself. I'll probably end up playing Rafa Nadal or something -- I'll have to wear a whole new body."
McEnroe on the lights in the press room:
"Does that light have to be so bright? Are we filming for like movies or something? This is unbelievable."
McEnroe on the level of athleticism in tennis today
"When I was playing, if you knew tennis -- the nuances of the game -- you would beat an athlete. Now the athlete beats the tennis player. So I'm looking for the combination. Rogers in a way that person. Where he's not maybe in a way as great an athlete -- I mean he's a great athlete there's no doubt about it, but Nadal and Djokovic are beyond belief -- but because he's so great at tennis it allows him to compete at this point at 30."
"There's no question you can't get away with just knowing tennis. Singles is whole new animal."
McEnroe on his level of doubles talent right now
"I'm covering half of the court, so this is beautiful for me. I'm not saying that I'm going to go out and win things but I feel like I can be comfortable against anybody right now playing doubles."
McEnroe on having his academy kids live diverse lifestyles
"I'm called a dinosaur at times, but I think they're making a big mistake. Even my brother looks at me and thinks I'm nuts. There's a lot of people who think you have to live and breathe it 24/7 when you're 12 years old, but I don't think so. We'll see. Some people, it may work for them that way, but other people it won't. I want to be at least an outlet or an option."
McEnroe, when asked about 1984 French Open
"No, no, no, no, no, no. Don't go there. I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I may get upset and I'm in too good a mood right now -- anything else?"
McEnroe on Isner's Grand Slam prospects
"I really believe he can get to like a semi or a final, given the right set of circumstances. This is just my opinion, I think he makes it a little more difficult for himself...he sort of wants to show that he can hit groundstrokes with these guys. I think he'd be better off playing more like Pete Sampras where he'd sort of unnerve these guys, and not give them rhythm and drive these people absolutely bananas."
McEnroe on whether Djokovic has the best return ever
"The level that he's at for the last year, year and a half, it's like unbelievable what he does. He's in that argument without a doubt."
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