Yesterday, by a way of a novelty, McEnroe let his racket do the talking, scarcely uttering a word, let alone an oath, while guaranteeing his place in today's final of the Honda Challenge with a 6-4 6-4 win against John Lloyd. The New Yorker completed his round-robin group with three victories, having already beaten Guillermo Vilas and Bjorn Borg.
Lloyd, Britain's Davis Cup coach, is five years older than McEnroe at 43 and has never ceased to marvel at the New Yorker's natural talent since seeing him play Colin Dibley as a 16-year-old in South Orange. "I remember looking at him and saying, 'Oh, my God!' when I saw what he could do with his hands, playing drop volleys with just a flick of the wrist."
Shortly afterwards, in 1978, Lloyd received a tennis lesson from McEnroe when the New Yorker made his Davis Cup debut in the final against Britain at Mission Hills, California.
Lloyd considers that his own game has improved technically and physically since he retired from the regular tour and started coaching. McEnroe agrees - "He's better than at the tail-end of his career" - which made it all the more impressive to see the former world No 1 relax and go for his shots yesterday.
"I knew I was already in the final," McEnroe said, "so I was able to take the heat off and try to play longer points. After all, I didn't pick up a racket for six weeks before I came to London. I have to get myself in better shape for when I next play Connors, so I can wear the old man down!"
Lloyd, though playing some fine tennis, was broken in the ninth game of the first set and the opening game of the second set as McEnroe settled into a smooth rhythm. "He was never losing against me," Lloyd said. "You have to be up a break or serving for a set to really see the fire. I think he's like Jimmy [Connors] and Bjorn. He doesn't like to lose whether he's playing for tuppence or pounds 100,000, tennis or tiddlywinks."
If one moment encapsulated yesterday's performance it was when McEnroe left his opponent stranded by stroking a forehand drop volley from the baseline. "Oh, don't do that, please!" Lloyd exclaimed.
McEnroe will meet Henri Leconte in today's final, a fascinating prospect given that the Frenchman is another exciting left-hander, but one inclined to have fun on the court rather than display anger. During a changeover in his match against Johan Kriek, Leconte brought the umpire down to earth by pressing the button on his hydraulic chair. Fortunately, McEnroe missed that one.
Next week, Lloyd plays in a seniors event in Sydney. He revels in competing against the giants of his generation, saying that although Borg's style suited him best he could not separate McEnroe, Borg and Connors in greatness. He smiled and added: "These guys take the piss out of me all the time."Reuse content