Tennis / Wimbledon '92: McEnroe revels in the role of favourite: Ian Tasker sees an old stager send a packed Court One into raptures as he captures his 17th Grand Slam title

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IN AN atmosphere as electric as anything Court One can ever have experienced, John McEnroe yesterday achieved something he had not managed for eight years - a Wimbledon title.

In tandem with Michael Stich, the veteran American finally overcame the stubborn challenge of Jim Grabb and Richey Reneberg to win an epic doubles final, 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 19-17, after a marathon five hours and one minute.

The match had been suspended on Sunday night at 13-13 in the fifth set as darkness descended ('We offered to play a tie-break for the match,' McEnroe said). Wimbledon had thrown open its doors, free of charge, for the climax to what was already the longest final in Wimbledon history.

Nearly 8,000 enthusiastic spectators crammed every nook and cranny of the court, enjoying the sunshine and the aperitif of the mixed doubles final - won 7-6, 6-2 by Cyril Suk and Larisa Savchenko-Neiland against Jacco Eltingh and Miriam Oremans.

The crowd, though, had only one man in mind. There were chants of 'We want Mac', Mexican waves, in which even the venerable Dan Maskell participated, and the rapturous standing ovation that greeted the quartet could hardly have been more stirring. Every shot McEnroe hit in the warm-up was accompanied by cheers and when he served for real the polite silence was shattered with a thousand amateur cameras being shuttered simultaneously. 'It was incredible,' he said. 'One of the best receptions I've ever had. It was unbelievable to come back Monday and find the stadium totally full. The energy was incredible and the buzz really pumped us up.'

Miraculously, in given the circumstances, the two pairings managed to sustain the form they had shown on Sunday and the fifth set provided an additional 34 minutes of entertainment. The serve dominated until, at 17-17, after McEnroe had delighted the crowd by vigorously questioning a line call, Reneberg served a double fault. Sensing blood, the American-German combination stepped up the pace, a flashing forehand cross- court volley by Stich after a frantic four-way exchange at the net, and a beautifully executed top-spin forehand lob from McEnroe sealing the first break of the final set.

McEnroe then served out to take the match, and after Reneberg netted a service return on match point, the 33-year-old New Yorker yelled in delight, threw down his racket and was hoisted into the air, arms aloft in triumph, by his partner, who - as far as the crowd were concerned - was there only to make up the numbers.

McEnroe, who believes the public have warmed to him since he has 'settled down and had a family', then gave his fans further cause to swoon when he took the trophy over to his four-year-old son, Sean, who had been watching from the side of the court.

The title, McEnroe's 17th Grand Slam triumph and his 10th in doubles, was his eighth at Wimbledon and the first here since 1984 when he won both singles and doubles.

'It's been a while so it's great,' McEnroe said. 'To win the doubles is the best way possible to get over losing the singles. I will be back next year, but I don't know in what capacity. I don't discount the possibility of playing singles but I would say the odds are very, very strong that I will come back and try to play the doubles.

'This win was incredible. There's nothing that can possibly top that as far as doubles, that's for sure. I'm very happy.' He was not the only one.


Agassi's gravity, page 30