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September 22, 2013

Double his pleasure

McEnroe puts legacy on display as he and Sampras win doubles match at Greenbrier

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — John McEnroe put together one of the greatest tennis careers in the history of the sport. He won seven major championships, 77 career titles overall and in 1984 won 82 of 85 matches, 13 of them tournament wins.

But McEnroe is also known as one of the game’s greatest doubles players. He was part of nearly as many doubles championships (71) as he won in singles competition, including nine majors, and he won the senior doubles title with his brother Patrick McEnroe at the 2012 French Open.

He added another doubles win to his list Sunday, teaming with fellow International Tennis Hall of Famer Pete Sampras to defeat Team Europe — Ivan Lendl and Tommy Haas — 6-1, 7-6 (3) in the second Greenbrier Champions Tennis Classic.

“He was incredible today,” Sampras said. “He played so well. Every return was great. He moved well, he was volleying. He carried me.”

As was the case in last year’s inaugural event, in which he lost a singles match to Sampras, McEnroe made sure the day was entertaining for the fans. He slammed his racquet to the Har-Tru court — after he and Sampras lost the first point of the match.

McEnroe made the day memorable not only with his orchestrated antics, but also with his play. The left-hander belied his status as the oldest player on the court, running down drop shots and throwing in a few passing shots as Team USA won the exhibition in straight sets.

After passing Haas to put Team USA up 3-1 in the second set, Sampras raised his arms to a cheering crowd.

McEnroe, 54, said playing doubles actually helped lengthen his career.

“It’s something I feel was important to my development,” he said. “It meant a lot to me and was good to me. When you’re only covering half the court, you can do it longer.”

Sampras acknowledged the success of twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who have been the world’s top-ranked doubles tandem for well over 300 weeks, but would put a McEnroe team against any other.

“John with anyone is just so impressive,” he said. “He showed today that he (still) has all the tools — serve-and-volley, the touch, the finesse out there. It’s a pretty rare situation you’re seeing today.”

McEnroe and Sampras dominated the first set against Lendl and Haas. A lob by Sampras over Lendl’s head helped Team USA break serve for a quick 2-0 lead. Sampras and McEnroe won the first five games before Haas momentarily stopped the bleeding with a dominant service game.

A forehand into the net by Lendl — himself a Hall of Famer with eight majors and 94 career victories — ended the set at 6-1 Team USA.

The second set was much closer. McEnroe and Sampras again were up a break at 3-1, but Haas and Lendl won three straight games to go ahead 4-3.

One of the more entertaining points of the match came in the set’s fifth game. McEnroe and Haas exchanged six volleys at the net before McEnroe hit a lob shot to the baseline. Haas, at 35 ranked 12th in the world and the only one of the four players still active on the ATP Tour, chased it down and fired a shot between his legs.

Sampras was able to hit a short volley that Haas again caught up to, but his shot went into the net.

However, Lendl and Haas won the game to break service.

After Haas and Lendl went up 4-3, the teams exchanged games and forced a tiebreaker, which was all Team USA.

McEnroe and Sampras won five of the first six points and led 6-2. The match was extended by one point when Sampras was long on a lob over Lendl’s head, prompting a smiling Sampras to lament, “That is so bad.”

On the second match point, Lendl hit a shot into the net after an exchange with Sampras.

“I had a lot of fun,” Sampras said. “Obviously, (The Greenbrier) is a beautiful resort. To be back was fun, and maybe next year I can bring my wife (actress Bridgette Wilson) and kids. (There are) a lot of activities for kids. ... It all worked out. It was a fun couple of days.”

“It was great,” said Lendl, a zero-handicap golfer who has two daughters who played college golf at University of Florida and a third still playing at University of Alabama. “Unfortunately, it rained (Saturday), but it was great being (outside Sunday). I enjoyed it. It’s beautiful, especially when it’s sunny.”

Meet-and-greets were held for fans with all four players, but McEnroe was the clear favorite. He was one of the most popular tennis stars of his generation, not only for his play but also because of his volatile temper that often led to smashed racquets and on-court rants with chair umpires.

“It’s nice to play in a place where you’re sort of close to the crowd and they’re into it. You sort of feed off that,” McEnroe said. “Everyone seems to be having a good time and has a lot of things to do. ... Hopefully, it worked out for everyone.”

— E-mail: gfauber@

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