Monday, December 1, 2008

Kickin' it old school

Well, it's not all completely null and void in the world of tennis this week.

The BlackRock Tour of Champions wraps up its season in London this week with the BlackRock Masters Tennis event. I've been meaning to write something about this tour (and to use that headline!) forever now!

This event is like the other stops on the tour and goes with a round-robin format: In one group, you have Greg Rusedski, Guy Forget, Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg going up against each other, while the other one pits Jeremy Bates, Cedric Pioline, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras head to head to head to head.

This season on the BlackRock tour has been pretty good, particularly if you've been a fan of the game for a while. It was great to hear of Sampras stopping by for an event or two; and a couple of guys I really wasn't expecting to see play much—Edberg and Patrick Rafter—also broke out the racquets. Michael Chang and Yevgeny Kafelnikov made their debuts, too. Marcelo Rios, who absolutely dominated last year, scaled back on his play this year and Goran Ivanisevic is at the top of the rankings this year.

Now, I really dig this tour, but I think some guys you could definitely do without seeing in singles competition—and I hope I'm not committing blasphemy to the tennis gods—such as Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas. Whenever I see that those two are in an event, my interest level drops about 50 percent. I mean, really: What chance do those two have against the serves of Ivanisevic and his Wimbledon-winning buddies, Michael Stich and Richard Krajicek, who can both still bring it? I know there's been some complaining among the oldest and most out-of-shape players about these younger guys on tour, but I'd much rather see the stars of the late '80s and early '90s anyway.

McEnroe, though, is an exception to that rule: I don't know if anyone else thinks this, but that guy is an athletic freak! He looks like some average Joe, but think about how he plays the game: the eyes, the hands, the reach... all tools that still help him succeed.

Anyway, if you get a chance to somehow watch any of the action in London this week, I'd recommend doing it. I think you can at least catch highlights on the BlackRock Masters site. And a tip (one Englishmen can be proud of): Watch out for Jeremy Bates here. Back when they were all on tour, the other guys would have chalked him up as a guaranteed win, but now everyone's a little slower and more on the same level. Plus, he's got the home crowd behind him. I'm sure he'll be looking for a little payback!

(Photo: Getty Images)


Shelia said...

I keep up with the BlackRock Tour of Champions. There have been some pretty good matches.

I totally agree with you on McEnroe. He is definitely a mind over matter kind of human being. When he hits that court, in his mind, it's 20, 25 years ago.

TopSpin said...

I think Ivanisevic and Edberg are on court tonight - I'll certainly be watching. Both those were favourites of mine through the late eighties and nineties.

And I agree about Villas and Borg, it must be painful watching them trying to hold their own against those younger guys.

However I seem to remember Rios playing Seniors in his early thirties - that's probably a little too early in my opinion.

heyheyhey said...

Oh, you lucky Brits! I would love to see that tour.
I don't mind the older guys playing, as long as they are playing other older guys. I remember them all, so I don't mind if they are out of shape. It's just great to see them still playing.

One match I would love to see, but will never happen, is Johnny Mac vs. A Williams sister. I think he could take either of them, even though he has 30 years on them.

van said...

• Hey Sheila, how are you? To me, one of the most amazing things he pulled off was winning San Jose with Jonas Bjorkman a couple of years ago: The guy can definitely still play!

• Hey TopSpin, what's up? Yeah, when Rios was out there playing more, it definitely kind of hurt the tour: I think he only lost one match all year! I think he was only 32 at the time. If he's healthy, he should be out there playing ATP events.

• Heyheyhey, how are you doing? It's great to see the older guys play, too, but if you have Vilas against Rios, that's not going to be fun to watch at all! I would hope those older, out-of-shape guys wouldn't want to get out there with a younger player.

As for McEnroe vs. a Williams sister: I really don't know what would happen! It's not like he really blasts the ball, and those two hit with younger guys all the time. I think they would probably get distracted by his net play, but who knows?

heyheyhey said...

Hi Van,

I definitely don't want to watch Rios against anyone over 38ish. That's just not fair. But Nastase against Lendl? Put me down. I don't care who wins. Nastase can play with a cigarette in one hand, a sandwich in the other, and pick up the racket when necessary! ;-)

I think JM would beat either of those girls because those girls only come to play when it's a slam. Neither one of them can think or strategize the way he can on court. (I'm not saying neither girl can think or strategize.) If he played one of them, the stakes wouldn't be high, but JM takes every match like his life is at stake. My money would definitely be on him.

freakyfrites said...

Hey everyone!

At least the Black Rock isn't an exhibition, but semi-serious competition! That makes it worth watching, and if it's a matter of ego, these "old" guys could still destroy any of the younger, humbler stars of today.

As for Williams vs. McEnroe, I think either Venus or Serena could blow John McEnroe off the court. But who knows, it could be the next great Battle of the Sexes! (Don't they have a new, co-ed tour, for this kind of thing?)

van said...

Hey Heyheyhey and Freakyfrites. That would be a great Battle of the Sexes match: McEnroe would probably have to dink them to death because I don't think he has their firepower. Maybe one day it'll happen...