The sky was black and the lights were shining brightly, a video tribute started on the board, with the song “The Boys are Back in Town” – it was one of those sports moments.
It had been 17 years since the boys were last in town. It’s John McEnroe whom hails from Manhattan, and has his tennis academy placed on Randalls Island, but Bjorn Borg loves the city too. "It’s one of my favorite places. I always have a nice experience coming to New York. It is a great city," Borg said before yesterdays match at Sportime Stadum.
|John McEnroe (USA) photo by Fred Mullane|
Their last serious match was in 1981 when John McEnroe drove Borg to retirement after defeating him at the US Open to claim the number one ranking. They never faced each other competitively again. Although many in the tennis world deemed Borg’s quick retirement a mistake, to this today he is content with the decision. "I didn't have any regrets. The only thing maybe, was I wish I had played John a few more times," Borg said.
While they vacationed with their families last week, McEnroe poached the idea of Borg filling in for the injured Jimmy Connors of the Philadelphia Freedoms. "He asked me if I wanted to come over and play and I said of course! The respect I have for John on the court and off the court is enormous. He is a good friend of mine and to me it was not a tough decision," Borg said.
McEnroe was a little hesitant to ask, but because it was to benefit the academy Borg was an obvious choice. "He has quite honestly saved my ass. Its’ a big fundraiser, and all the money is going to the academy to try and provide some more opportunities. It was awesome and much appreciated that Bjorn was willing to step in here," McEnroe said.
For both players it’s more than just another match. "I think every time I walk on the court with John it’s going to be special," Borg said. It is special because it brings back memories of what Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe did for the sport, something they both take a great deal of pride in. They brought a certain buzz to the sport. “Tennis was at a different level (when we played) compared to where it is today,” Borg said.
McEnroe joked before the match, that his teammates were putting pressure on him to win, yet he explained a greater purpose for the event. "What's really more important is that we hopefully leave people walking away from this feeling like they had a great evening. And hopefully we can bring back a little magic," McEnroe said.
And for one evening, in one set, magic was alive in Manhattan. McEnroe and Borg were facing off, and the crowd was captivated. Borg looked sharp early, dominating the first game, and smacking two consecutive aces to grab the third game as well. He was hitting the ball hard, side to side, past McEnroe. But McEnroe started to place the ball in the corners and took advantage of Borg’s decline in agility. McEnroe won the 8th game to force a nine point tiebreaker, which he won on an ace of his own.
“He is still a fighter. He still wants to win all the time, and he still plays a lot of tennis, he is a great competitor,” Borg said post match.
Bjorn Borg photo by Fred Mullane
Most importantly however, the buzz that McEnroe looked to create was in full force. The crowd gave a standing ovation as the two tennis titans embraced. McEnroe’s win gave the Sportimes a 17-16 lead over the Freedoms, yet it didnt matter.
They had played 4 sets and had one to go, but the crowd was more concerned with what they just saw, then the outcome of the match. They had just witnessed what lacks from the sport today. 30 years past their prime McEnroe and Borg brought buzz that current players just don’t bring. That’s why McEnroe started his tennis academy at New York Sportime.
“It seemed like [the buzz has] slipped, so step by step we need to get more people into it,” McEnroe said, “You need better athletes, and have to try to get some of the athletes that go play basketball, football, etc. into tennis.”
All proceeds from Thursdays match, went to the Johnny Mac Tennis project, an organization dedicated to exposing young athletes in the greater New York Metropolitian area to competitive tennis regardless of their economic circumstance.”
“We want to change some lives, and we have begun it win the McEnroe Academy which has just completed its first year, and now with this event, in which we hope to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to making sure that what we are doing is accessible to all,” Claude Okin, CEO of Sportime clubs and the New York Sportimes said.
The Philadelphia Freedoms (2-7) did take the victory over the New York Sportimes (6-3).
The Sportimes led going into the final set of the night. Yet, Beatrice Capra defeated the previously undefeated Martina Hingis by a score of 5-2 to give the Freedoms a 21-19 win.