By Lindsay Gibbs
A rivalry will be renewed this summer as Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe face off on Randall’s Island on July 14. McEnroe’s New York Sportimes will face Connors’ Philadelphia Freedoms in a marquee night for the 36th season of World Team Tennis, ”A Season of Number Ones.”
It’s been ten years since the champions played each other on the World Team Tennis stage, and twenty since their last ATP match, a straight-sets win by McEnroe in the semifinals of Basel in 1991. The two met 34 times over fourteen years on tour, with McEnroe leading the series 20-14.
The fervor of their rivalry defined a generation and certainly transcended the sport. “There was nothing quiet about our rivalry… There was so much more that went into it than just the tennis,” Connors reflected on a conference call on Tuesday. “I would have played him on crutches because that’s what it brought out in me… the desire to be better.” The fans picked up on the intensity of the rivalry and McEnroe says he still has people come up to him and declaring “I still think Jimmy Connors is better looking than you.”
Today’s tennis fans are used to a much more cordial form of rivalry. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have set the precedent with a heated rivalry on-court but a very professional and friendly relationship off-the-court. Connors says that he could “never see Mac and I doing a few things that those two have done. “ McEnroe, when talking about the state of the game today, said “if there’s a complaint it’s that everyone gets along too well.”
When asked for predictions on the current crop of top ATP players (Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Federer, and Andy Murray) and their prospects leading into Wimbledon, McEnroe said, “There’s a case to be made for all four. It’s one of the most interesting Wimbledon’s in some time.” The two Hall of Famers caused plenty of Wimbledon excitement themselves when they played, as Connors remembers his 1982 Wimbledon Final five-set victory over McEnroe as “probably my greatest performance.”
Both men are looking forward to renewing their rivalry in both singles and doubles on July 14th at Sportime Randall’s Island in New York City. The evening will be a special benefit for the Johnny Mac Tennis Project , a program to assist the growth of tennis in New York City. Tickets can be purchased by telephone (212‐792‐8500) or online at www.NYSportimes.com.