Senior Tournament Comes To New York
By Richard Pagliaro
Senior tennis got back on track at Grand Central Terminal today. Rather than surviving a frenetic Manhattan rush hour, seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe and actor Michael J. Fox — friends, fathers and fellow New Yorkers — were on hand to announce the return of senior tennis to the United States with the launch of the inaugural LTU Champions Trophy tournament set for August 18-21st in the Hamptons.
McEnroe, former Wimbledon winners Pat Cash and Goran Ivanisevic, former French Open champion Guillermo Vilas, Anders Jarryd, Aaron Krickstein, Mansour Bahrami and Peter McNamara will play in the round-robin LTU Champions Trophy event staged at the tennis stadium at Sportime on Amagansett, Long Island. Partial ticket proceeds, a silent auction at each playing session and a live auction at the players' party will benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.
It marks the first senior tournament in the United States soil in nearly four years.
"It means a lot to be back in New York," McEnroe told Tennis Week after sharing the stage with Fox to announce the event. "Particularly since one of the last senior event scheduled in the States was supposed to be here in New York. We were supposed to play in Central Park right after 9-11 and when 9-11 happened obviously things changed. New Yorkers and the rest of the country saw how we were able to turn this unbelievable negative into a sort of a coming together as a family so to speak, rising together and handling an awful situation as best we could. It's really taken this long in the States to regroup and get people aware and interested and get the sponsors and get the event on. So I'm very excited about it."
Looking lean and fit and eager for action, McEnroe was clad in a black silk shirt and black pants that contrasted with the silver chain around his neck bearing a silver wedding band and crucifix. Whether this event marks the relaunch of the senior circuit in the States or if it will be a one-off tournament remains to be seen. McEnroe himself is not so sure though he is scheduled to play a senior event at The Westside Tennis Club in Houston in November.
The Houston club, which hosted the ATP Tour's Tennis Masters Cup the past two years, will host the inaugural Champions Cup, an eight-man senior event, November 10-13th. Five former Grand Slam champions — J McEnroe, Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Goran Ivanisevic, Mats Wilander — as well as Mikael Pernfors, Aaron Krickstein and Todd Martin, who will make his senior debut, are scheduled to compete in the round-robin event. The event is produced by InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, the company Courier co-founded, in conjunction with Westside owners Jim McIngvale and his wife Linda McIngvale.
"Mattress Mac (Jim McIngvale) is a character who loves tennis and fortunately for us he's put a lot of money into it. He had the Masters in Houston. My understanding is there's going to be a seniors event at the end of the year in Houston. My understanding is that this event and that one on the horizon are hopefully a harbinger of things to come."
The 46-year-old McEnroe has scaled the exhilarating heights of world No. 1 and descended into the devastating depths of Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11th, 2001 when he visited the sight where the World Trade Center once stood before a terrorist attack toppled the Twin Towers and reduced them to rubble.
McEnroe said the events of 9-11 — combined with the departure of drawing cards Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg from the tour — contributed to the demise of the senior circuit in the States. He's hopeful the infusion of new champions Courier, Ivanisevic and Muster as well as the support of a new sponsor will help revive the tour.
"It's sad that the end of Jimmy and Bjorn's career combined with 9-11 was something for all of us who were there would never forget," McEnroe said. "It really set off this sort of final nail in the coffin. When people are worried about coming to the country and sponsors are concerned, I think it's rather obvious how difficult that is to overcome. So I'm happy the people at LTU have sponsored this event. This has been four or five years coming. To make a long story short, I certainly hope this is the beginning. I'm the oldest guy on the tour. I don't have a lot of time left."
As McEnroe spoke, he signed a few autographs for young fans, waved to a passing Pat O'Brien and gazed over at Fox. Though it's been 20 years since the Canadian born actor made Back To The Future, he looks so young he could still pass for a college freshman. It's been 14 years since Fox was first diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Medication has helped calm the tremors that shook Fox's hand and though he stammered slightly at times during his speech, he spoke clearly and looked healthy.
"I only twitch when I get nervous and I get nervous looking out at all of you," Fox quipped. "I'm thrilled to be a part of this event as long as I don't have to actually play tennis. My wife gave me a tennis racquet for Father's Day — it's still not strung yet."
McEnroe appeared genuinely moved by Fox's presence at the press conference and participation at the event.
"I see how courageous and tough Michael J. is and how deeply he digs and cares so much and it makes me want to be a part of it in some small way," McEnroe said. "Helping to raise a little money for his foundation is a great thing and I'm happy to help in anyway I can. He's an inspiration to me."
Tennis Week.com will post more of John McEnroe's comments on the senior tour and the future of tennis this week.