Here's a hot contender for sports quote of the year: "I hate to say this, but the linesman did a great job today" - John McEnroe. Mac the Mouth's magnanimity came at the end of a classic semi-final in the Senior Masters at the Royal Albert Hall, in which McEnroe lost 6-4 6-4 to defending champion Jim Courier and also had to bow the knee to Hawk-Eye, the automatic line-calling system which was being used for the first time in an official men's tournament.
At the age of 46, McEnroe was unable to resist the Hawk-Eye challenge, invoking the electronics wizard's judgement in the very first game of the one hour 24 minute match on a Courier forehand he claimed was wide. He was wrong, just, but was clearly so impressed that he forecasts the system will eventually not only do away with the need for line judges but also umpires.
McEnroe also feels that over-use of the system will ruin the flow of a match and could be invoked by players seeking a breather. "The number of challenges to Hawk-Eye should be restricted to a certain number," was his suggestion, something with which Courier concurred. Too many incorrect challenges to Hawk-Eye should cost the complaining player a penalty point, Courier feels, while McEnroe considers the system "definitely fallible".
"If it works 98 per cent of the time it should be used, if it's 90 per cent it's questionable. But it certainly takes away antagonism," said the man who raged so famously, and successfully, at officialdom in his playing pomp.
To McEnroe's credit, it was the 35-year-old Courier who called for Hawk-Eye on the three other occasions that it was requested yesterday, most crucially in the third game when McEnroe struck an ace to hold serve and went to his seat, only to be recalled when the computer said no. After demanding "can I get the name of the person who is working it?", McEnroe went on to lose his serve and, with it, a tightly contested opening set.
Giving away close to a dozen years, McEnroe had trouble throughout with Courier's famed smiting skills and he never managed to reach break point on serve in either set. Still, having won this title four times, McEnroe clearly feels proprietorial about the event and had prepared well for his visit to London, only to jar his back last weekend when collecting firewood at the property he has just bought in upstate New York.
There was little evidence of any discomfort, apart from the occasional groan, as he hurtled in pursuit of the thunderballs struck by an opponent who has never bothered with the niceties. However, the sad truth is that there was only ever likely to be one winner, the way Courier was performing yesterday.
It was of little consolation for McEnroe to be able to say: "I gave it everything I had." Of course he did, he always does, and the hope is that he will choose to carry on doing it as he heads towards the half-century. There was the intriguing hint to the crowd: "Maybe next year, one more time. Then you can send me back off to the United States."
Later he amplified that comment. Pointing out that his defeat was closer than the one he suffered to the same player a year ago, McEnroe said: "I have still got these guys thinking. I can see myself doing it for at least a couple more years. And when I really can't move I will start thinking seriously about doubles."
In this afternoon's final for the $100,00 winner-take-all prize, Courier will face Holland's Paul Haarhuis who beat Sergei Brugera of Spain 6-1, 6-4.Reuse content