With its usual mix of impressive tennis moves and entertaining on-court banter and antics, the annual Legends showcase was held at Festival Green in Camana Bay Friday night.
John McEnroe faced off against Jim Courier in the men’s singles, followed by McEnroe teaming up with Slovakian player Daniela Hantuchova and Courier with Chris Evert for the mixed doubles match.
This year’s Legends was a scaled-down affair, covering just one evening of play, unlike in previous years when it spanned two evenings. The players also took part in a meet-and-greet the following day at the Arts and Recreation Centre.
Friday night’s Legends evening was marked with a great deal of skillful play on court – as well as some unexpected bare-chested dancing by McEnroe. After both the men’s singles and mixed doubles matches, he took off his orange shirt and threw it into the crowd and then, joined by laughing ball boys, showed off some of his dance moves. This led his opponent Courier to remark wryly to the crowd at the post-match on-court interview, “You loved John McEnroe’s white chest. I don’t understand that.” Umpire Mark Knowles, himself a former pro player and doubles champion, kept score and also kept up a lively commentary throughout the matches.
In the men’s singles, McEnroe from his first touch of the ball, played to the crowd and acknowledged his combative reputation, shouting “What?” when his serve was deemed a fault by the umpire. That set the stage for an evening of much clowning on the part of the 58-year-old former World No. 1 and current sports commentator.
When he and Courier, 46, swapped sides of the net after the first game, McEnroe asked sarcastically “Could those signs be any brighter?” – referring to the advertising boards next to the score board that he was now facing. With a perfect straight face and voice, Knowles announced, “Mr. McEnroe would like the signs a little brighter.”
A very tight match ensued, with the players reaching deuce again and again and matching each other set for set, before McEnroe pulled ahead 6-4, then 7-4, before Courier won another set, making the score 7-5. At this point, things took a turn for the weird, with McEnroe helping himself to some popcorn from a group of kids at courtside. Moments later, he spilled a bag of popcorn onto the court. When a ball girl tried to clear it up, McEnroe decided to help her out by lying on the court and eating some of the snacks off the ground. Then he turned his attention back to the game, beating Courier 8-5.
The men were then joined on court for the mixed doubles by Evert, 62, who has won 18 Grand Slam singles championships as well as 32 doubles titles over her career, and Hantuchova, 33, who has won seven World Tennis Association singles titles and nine doubles.
Another close match was under way, marked by some exciting, fast-paced, no-bounce rallies between the players, and of course, plenty of verbal back and forths between the players, especially Evert and McEnroe – both of whom are sports commentators.
The match ended 6-4 to McEnroe and Hantuchova.
Speaking after the matches, the players paid tribute to the fans who turned out to watch.
Courier, who has been a regular at the Legends event over the years, told the crowd, “It is such a pleasure and honor to come down and get the chance to play in front of all the wonderful fans.”
Before the tennis legends took to the court and as the spectators settled in, four local players competed in a men’s singles and a women’s singles match.
Jade Wilkinson, 16, took on former tennis professional Yana Koroleva, 24, who recently moved to Cayman. The game ended 6-2 to Koroleva. Next up were Callum Theaker, 16, against Mica Koll, 30, with Koll winning 6 sets to 3.
Two raffle winners also got to take to the court, with Nicola Holdsworth and Patrick Duggan returning serves from McEnroe and Hantuchova, respectively.
Proceeds from the raffle went to Special Olympics Cayman Islands, the chosen charity for the event.