Senior Tennis Grows With Nostalgic Fans
If Fleetwood Mac can stage a reunion tour, the Volkswagen Beetle can make a comeback and Jack Nicklaus can make a run at the Masters title, then surely four of the greatest tennis players of all time can get together in Newport Beach and remind us why we love the game.
Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Yannick Noah, with 27 Grand Slam titles among them, will compete this weekend at the Palisades Tennis Club in the Challenge, the biggest event in the burgeoning senior tennis tour. First prize is $150,000. Total prize money for singles and doubles is $325,000.
Friday’s semifinal will match McEnroe against Noah. Saturday’s semifinal has Connors playing Borg. The winners will meet at 11 a.m. Sunday in the final.
The tennis on the senior tour may not match the quality of the ATP, but the points can be more exciting, the matchups more compelling, the personalities more interesting.
“I think people realize, and I’ve realized myself, that [tennis] is not like it was when I came in in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s,” McEnroe said. “When I came in, it seemed like it was really exciting and really fun to be a part of.”
The tennis fans’ taste for yesteryear has helped the senior tour grow. Connors started the tour in 1993 with three events in the United States. This year there are 21 events worldwide, 10 in the U.S.
“Generally, people like to be a little nostalgic, and I think that the personalities were there when I played,” McEnroe said. “It’s similar to [Jack] Nicklaus and [Arnold] Palmer, the way people remember them.
“The people can feel that they were growing up with us, possibly, and they can relate to us more. I don’t think people really feel they know the players now and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to know at this point. It’s a lot more businesslike now.”
The senior tennis tour doesn’t have the television ratings or the prize money of the senior golf tour, but it has already surpassed McEnroe’s expectations. Matches Saturday and Sunday will be televised on tape delay by CBS. The nine other U.S. events are being shown on Fox Sports Net, and the European tournaments are on Euro Sports.
Last year’s Challenge in Colorado Springs drew more than 16,000 fans over four days. This year’s tournament in Newport Beach could come close to that.
Borg said players from his era are too competitive to let the level of play drop too much.
“We have a great time playing this tour, but we all love winning,” he said. “We don’t like to lose.”
Especially, Connors, who at 46 is the tour’s all-time money winner and a two-time winner of the Challenge. Last week in Raleigh, N.C., he won his 30th senior tournament.
“It seems like he has that same feeling, that same emotion he had 20 years ago,” Borg said. “We all stepped away from the game for a while, but Jimmy never did. He retired and then went right on the seniors tour. That’s his advantage right now.”
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* What: “The Challenge,” a special event on the ATP Tour-sanctioned worldwide senior tennis tour, which includes John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and Yannick Noah. The event benefits the Arthritis Foundation, Orange County/Long Beach branch.
* When: Today-Sunday.
* Where: Palisades Tennis Club, 1171 Jamboree Road, Newport Beach.
* Tournament format: Singles--four-man draw, single elimination; doubles--four-team draw, single elimination; all best-of-three-set matches.
* Today’s schedule: 2 p.m.--Semifinal doubles matches: Tim Wilkison-Bob Lutz vs. Gene Mayer-Brian Gottfried; Scott Davis-Eddie Dibbs vs. Hank Pfister-Mel Purcell.
* TV: CBS will show the Connors-Borg match Saturday on tape delay from 1-3 p.m., and the singles final Sunday on tape delay from 1-3 p.m.
* Tickets: Reserved seats $20-$50 today; $35-$65 Friday and Saturday; $40-$70 Sunday.
* Information: (714) 640-6265.