Tennis: McEnroe puts Connors in his place

IN THEIR first confrontation on British soil since the 1984 Wimbledon final, John McEnroe humbled Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour in the ATP Seniors' Honda Challenge here yesterday. Connors may be pushing 50 and McEnroe is aged 40 but this was a serious sporting contest. The pair have always been fierce rivals and age has not diminished their determination.

"If I was 60 and he was 55 and we just hit a few balls for exercise we would still be trying to prove something to one another - just out of memory," said Connors. "That is good because you have a reason to go out and try to lift your game to another level. Hopefully, it brings out the best in both of you. But unfortunately it just brought out the best in him today."

McEnroe said: "There is no question that Jimmy Connors is one of the greatest players who ever stepped on a tennis court. I still get more of a rise playing Jimmy Connors. It is still there."

The Albert Hall is used to encores, yet this was no repeat of the spectacular matches they played in the 1970s and 1980s, even if the score was close to the 1984 Wimbledon final, won 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 by McEnroe. Both players looked in excellent physical condition, McEnroe's grey hairs the only obvious sign of middle age. However, McEnroe's game was much the sharper and at times his crisp volleys and well-timed groundstrokes brought back memories of the old days, though there were no McEnroe outbursts, just the odd sarcastic smile after a close line call.

Connors was unable to live with his younger rival, who could still test some of the top players on the ATP Tour on a fast indoor court.

Both Connors and McEnroe had already reached the semi-finals of the Honda event before yesterday's game following earlier victories, and it is still possible they could meet again in tomorrow's final. The American veterans remain a major attraction and the Albert Hall was at least two-thirds full. Among the watchers was the former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, who McEnroe would love to welcome to the senior tour. He remains eager to test himself against the best in the world and the recently retired Becker is top of his list.

"If I see he is going to do it, I will try and play the tournaments he is playing. I want to play those guys," McEnroe said. "It gives me incentive to hang with it and keep in shape.

"He's better than about everyone but maybe a handful of guys in the world on grass, so he's not exactly thinking senior tour yet. But hopefully in a couple or years when he has the time to reflect..."