NEWPORT BEACH — The first serve John McEnroe hit was an ace Thursday night.
McEnroe, now 51, appeared humble in the World Team Tennis match at The Tennis Club Newport Beach.
"It's the first [ace] I've got in 30 years," he said.
It was early; the humility could only last so long.
Ten minutes later in the men's doubles set, he was back to the fiery personality, yelling at a lineswoman after a call didn't go his way and putting his hands on his hips in that trademark pouty attitude the 17-time Grand Slam winner made famous. Soon after that, McEnroe turned his attention to the umpire, asking if he could make some fans in the club seats quiet down.
"You can't tell them to shut up?" McEnroe said. "They're just allowed to talk as loud as they want?"
McEnroe put on a show with the New York Sportimes, the Eastern Conference regular-season champions. After he and Robert Kendrick won that first set, 5-4, in a tiebreaker on McEnroe's service winner, he gave Kendrick a big hug at the net.
Lester Cook, David Martin and the rest of the Newport Beach Breakers watched the spectacle in their season finale. And, by the way, Kendrick survived three match points at the end to edge Cook and give the Sportimes a 23-22 victory.
Cook led the last-set tiebreaker, 4-2, but Kendrick won three straight points to escape and help the Sportimes to the victory.
All five sets Thursday went to tiebreakers, which Coach Trevor Kronemann said was a first in his 21 years of Team Tennis. The Breakers finish Kronemann's fourth season at the helm 5-9.
"The team chemistry was great," Kronemann said. "That was the No. 1 thing. We just didn't have the time off to rebound. We didn't have the time to work on our games."
McEnroe said at a press conference before the match that he was disappointed in his WTT performance this year. He said his participation in the league, playing against guys half his age, is something that he assesses year by year, "almost match by match."
McEnroe didn't play singles Thursday night, just two doubles sets, but he won both. Besides the men's doubles win, he teamed up in mixed doubles with Ashley Harkleroad to top the Breakers' Julie Ditty and David Martin, also 5-4 (5-2 in the tiebreaker).
"It's not been easy," McEnroe said. "It's frustrating because I know I need to play well. It's all about, like, if I feel good. But things haven't clicked the way I wanted. Those things happen. If you're like a step slow right now, these guys are hitting a big ball, those things happen in a hurry."
McEnroe doesn't expect to play for the Sportimes (9-5) in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, tonight in New York. He has an exhibition match against Andre Agassi on Saturday night at UCLA but could rejoin the Sportimes should they advance to Sunday's league championship match.
Clearly, he still enjoys the looser atmosphere the format provides, yet McEnroe is as competitive as ever. He berated the umpire yet again after he thought a serve in the mixed doubles tiebreaker was long, yet McEnroe had the last laugh as he unleashed a winning volley to win the set.
Newport Beach team chairman Dr. Alan Beyer, an orthopedic surgeon at Hoag Hospital, was perhaps inspired by McEnroe's presence. Beyer had maybe the line of the night.
"We're in Newport Beach," said Beyer, trying to induce bids during a halftime auction for a prize package. "Instead of getting plastic surgery next year, go to the U.S. Open."
The prize package went for $15,000. The match itself stayed close throughout.
After the men's doubles loss, the Breakers got their first women's singles win in five tries from Marie-Eve Pelletier. She outlasted New York's Abigail Spears, 5-3, in a tiebreaker. Spears was ranked No. 2 in the league in women's singles, behind Lindsay Davenport, before the match began.
The Sportimes were ahead, 14-13, following their mixed doubles win. But then Ditty and Pelletier rallied from a 4-1 deficit to top Spears and Harkleroad in yet another tiebreaker, 5-3 in the 'breaker, and the score was tied 18-18 headed into the last set.