Back in the day when the Tennis Grand Masters played each year in Naples, Australian great Ken Rosewall often commented that if he was within seven years of his opponent, he could still be highly competitive.
Stretching the age gap beyond that generally resulted in some tough sledding, the man they jokingly called “Muscles” lamented.
Given such a parameter, imagine what John McEnroe is trying to do in the Outback Champions Series tennis thrill show that returns to the Players Club & Spa at Lely Resort tonight. Play runs through Sunday.
The dark, curly locks that once bristled at a line judge’s bad call have turned mostly gray. And at the age of 49, McEnroe is the oldest player in the field of eight.
The winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles (17 in all including doubles), Mac goes into the $150,000 tournament giving 12 years to Todd Martin, Jim Courier and Magnus Larsson. He’s nine years older than Aaron Krickstein.
Only Anders Jarryd (46), Mikael Pernfors (44) and Jimmy Arias (43) fall within Rosewall’s seven-year theory when pitted against McEnroe.
Having hinted that he no longer will play competitive tennis once he turns 50, McEnroe these days sees a somewhat fuzzy outline of his future.
“That is a good question. I am looking at my options and want to continue to be a part of the sport I love,” he said recently.
McEnroe ranked fifth among the Outback Series Champions players in the final 2007 points standings. Youth did seem to play a role in the outcome. Martin ended up No. 1, followed by Courier, Pete Sampras (36) and Wayne Ferreira (36).
The stars of the upcoming Oliver Group Champions Cup were out Tuesday night at The Players Club & Spa at Lely Resort for the “Night at the Net 2008,” a charity event that benefited the United Way of Collier County.
One thing does seem certain: If McEnroe is on a tennis court in shorts and sneakers, he’s not going to give a half-hearted effort.
“I always loved sports and was always competitive. Maybe it was my upbringing in New York,” said McEnroe, who was not on hand Tuesday night. “There is a lot of energy there. All in all, it has dimmed a bit, but it is still there.
“My goal is to win one of the tournaments (this year), but at the very least, to be able to go out there and still compete at a high level,” he said.
There is added incentive for the players. The highest ranking player at the end of the schedule will receive a $100,000 bonus.
Courier, who founded the Champions Tour, understands McEnroe’s competitive mindset even though the fiery lefty’s chances to win are dwindling.
“John is the most naturally competitive people you will ever meet. He has a zest for competition that cannot be suppressed and his intensity is something that I marvel at,” Courier said.
The full 2008 Outback Champions Series schedule features eight events, including two new tournaments in the Cayman Islands and Surprise, Ariz. Other tournament venues are Boston, Newport, Charlotte, Dallas and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Not in the Naples field, Sampras, who won three events in 2007 in his debut year in the Outback Champions Series, will make his first 2008 appearance in Boston come April 30-May 4.
Sponsors of Tuesday’s “Night at the Net 2008” included Stock Development, InsideOut, Outback, n Magazine, C&H Events Inc., Bond, Schoeneck & King, Northern Trust and The Oliver Group.
Contact Tom Rife at firstname.lastname@example.org.