Forty-two-year-old John McEnroe showed his age in the later stages of Sunday's singles final in the Success Magazine Champions Tournament. But McEnroe also showed he can still close out a match against a younger and more fit opponent as he defeated 35-year-old Pat Cash, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 10-7, before 1,800 at Newport Beach Tennis Club.
McEnroe, who had lost to Cash in their last three senior tour meetings, rallied from a 7-5 deficit in the third-set Champions tiebreaker to win his 32nd Champions title. After shaking hands with Cash, McEnroe collapsed on his chair as if he had just played five sets at Wimbledon. Toward the end of the second set, and in the third-set tiebreaker, McEnroe began stretching his legs as if he was cramping. After one long point, he knelt on the ground and stayed there for almost a minute.
"I don't cramp," he said. "I was just getting tight in my legs. I was trying to tell myself to fight through it, stay technically sound."
Once Cash took a 7-5 lead on a beautiful cross-court backhand passing shot, he appeared ready to finish off McEnroe. But the 1987 Wimbledon champion, known for his serve and volley game, couldn't find his first serve. He lost the last three points of his serve.
"I had my chances, I just didn't serve as well as I normally do," Cash said. "Even with a 7-5 lead, I didn't feel very comfortable. The way I was serving, I wasn't counting on anything."
Cash said he would have liked to play an entire third set to decide the match.
"I'm the fittest guy on this tour, so obviously that would have been to my advantage," he said. "The third-set tiebreaker gives the older guys the advantage, but I understand why they do it."
McEnroe said he could have gone three full sets.
"I prefer to play three sets," he said. "It's a better test."
With McEnroe, you can usually count on a few altercations with fans and umpires, and Sunday was no different.
He glared and argued over several line calls and bickered with Cash when the chair umpire overruled a call in McEnroe's favor. Cash tried to ignore McEnroe's antics during the match. But afterward, he voiced his displeasure.
"When it gets like that, it's not fun," Cash said. "He's glaring at balls three feet out. But that's the way he is. It's the way he's always been. It gets a little frustrating."
McEnroe, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy the challenge of playing Cash.
"He's good for the tour," McEnroe said. "He's good looking, there's a youth to him and a spring to his step."
McEnroe called Cash "the first wave" of senior players he will face on tour. He called the recently retired Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg "the second wave." McEnroe said he probably won't be around to see the third wave.
"I'm hoping to play for another couple years, to see how I measure up against some of these new guys," he said.
When McEnroe leaves the tour, he hopes the tour doesn't go with him.
"I'm hoping we leave something," he said. "But we're like the icing on top of the ice cream. We can't make it without the ice cream, or the main tour doing well. Hopefully, I'd like to see it become something legitimate."