By Brad Hunter
(March 13, 2014) NASHVILLE – It makes cosmic sense John McEnroe clinched the PowerShares title in “Music City,” on Wednesday night. He loves his guitar playing and is married to rocker goddess Patty Smyth. He’s also in amazing shape, and glides around the court like a current ATP Tour professional. McEnroe defeated Pat Cash in the final set 6-3 after beating Jimmy Connors 6-4 in the semi-final. It was the first time in the last 12 years that McEnroe had played against Connors. This event also gave the former greats of the game a chance to advocate tennis in an area where there is no professional tennis. When asked about the current state of tennis in America before the matches, McEnroe said “…it’s a game that takes a long time to learn and it’s expensive. We’ve got to give more kids an opportunity… get into schools more, high schools, grammar schools…”
The evening started with Ivan Lendl facing off against Pat Cash. From the get-go, Cash displayed a showman’s affection towards the crowd: tapping balls (and double-tapping after fans threw them back) into the crowd for fans to keep, giving a kid sitting courtside one of his checkered bandanas, taking his shirt off after a lady yelled “take your shirt off!” He also moved around the baseline and up to his favorite area of the court, the net, with agility reminiscent of his days on tour. Lendl threw up numerous high lobs, and Cash hit most of them for winners with jumping, acrobatic overhead smashes. Lendl, in fine form, also had fun with the crowd, but in his own way… confrontation with a smirk. One man in the crowd was heckling him early on the set, and he stopped play to ask the man if he was drunk, and then asked him which lady he was sitting with was his date. (One of them looked like his wife, and the other looked like his daughter)… After the man replied something saucy, Lendl asked him to come down to the court. The man wouldn’t oblige so Lendl said “I can’t help it if he has no balls!” The crowd seemed to enjoy the exchange and laughed… the heckler made no more comments to Lendl. The men stayed on serve until 5-all, when Lendl played an error filled game and double faulted to give Cash the break. Cash had been dominant on his serve until he served for the set, and he proceeded to drop serve and send them into a tiebreaker. Lendl had one match point which Cash saved with a high kicker service winner to Lendl’s backhand, and then Cash won the set 9-7 in the tiebreaker.
The second semi-final set pitted John McEnroe against longtime rival on and off the court, Jimmy Connors. While McEnroe moved around the court like the old days, Connors kept his movement more controlled. Connors has had 3 hip surgeries, but his footwork looked amazing and his feet kept moving during points. This was Connors’ first match stop in the PowerShares Series tour and he said before the match “time to come back and hit a few, this is my first public appearance in about 3 years or so.” McEnroe and Connors had quite a few long rallies, John seemingly happy rallying with Nadal-like topspin from the back court, and Jimmy comically huffing and puffing between points. Connors also played in long pants “like Bill Tilden” which became a running gag during the match. At one point someone shouted “I don’t need no shorts!” to Connors, which made him crack up laughing and prompted McEnroe to roll his own shorts up like they were daisy dukes. Connors responded by putting two tennis balls up to eyes as if he were horrified by the sight of McEnroe’s exposed thighs. Towards the end of the set, McEnroe increased the pressure on Connors and his own forays to the net and won the set at 6-4.
The final featured the two resident serve and volleyers, Cash and McEnroe. McEnroe, while clearly having fun, also had his serious game face on and broke Cash early for a 2-0 lead. Cash was able to earn some break points down 2-3 in the set, but McEnroe saved them and served out the match to win 6-3. There were a few calls in the set that McEnroe playfully objected to, but he did not display any of his true trademark tantrums. “I played some good tennis most of the time and I’ve played some really tough competition” he told Jimmy Arias after the final.
Brad Hunter was in Nashville covering the Powershares Series Tennis. Follow his personal Twitter @BradHunter.