McEnroe finally took the foot out of his mouth!
By Jim Reffkin
John McEnroe, one of the great doubles players in tennis history, hasn't played in a Professional doubles or singles event since 1994. On the Tennis Channel, live from San Jose, I recently watched John McEnroe win his 78th doubles title. This puts him 3rd in the all time best record of men's doubles titles.
Let me tell you why this win is so significant and why it is making my life much easier. In 1999 at Wimbledon, a few years after he retired, John decided to make a comeback; not in men's doubles, but in mixed doubles with Steffi Graf. Well Steffi and John had gotten to the semi-finals and were doing great in what was his first "real competitive open" event since retiring to the senior tour.
So here we are at Wimbledon, and Steffi, with no injury or excuse of any kind, decides to "stiff" McEnroe and withdraw from the event; apparently because she was saving herself for singles.
Well in the meantime, in 2001, as an effort to offer a more exciting and time definable sporting event to television viewers, the USTA, after much debate, finally adopted innovative scoring for its US Open mixed doubles event. So I get back from New York, very excited about watching the mixed doubles final on television. This was going to be the first time that a "Major," the US Open, was going to use my scoring- Match Tiebreak in lieu of 3rd set. Please keep in mind that I have been on a twenty year crusade to initiate new tennis scoring formats that would not only grow the game, but make it more appealing to time poor adults and less stressful for juniors.
Actually, I couldn't have been more excited about this event, even if I were playing in it; and of course fat chance that would ever happen. So what a coincidence, guess who is broadcasting this historic US Open mixed doubles event with Tracy Austin? John (I will never hold a grudge) McEnroe. Wow, in the history of my watching athletic events on television, I have never seen and heard such disparaging comments and the outright demeaning of an event. Not only did he dismiss this "finals" event with his, "are you kidding me?" attitude, but literally insulted the participants by not even paying attention to the match. John, the mouth, McEnroe never stopped talking about his own personal trivia and completely ignored the efforts of the players. In the meantime, Tracy Austin is making every effort to report a tremendously close match, and is excited about the subsequent first ever televised match tiebreak between Rennae Stubbs and Todd Woodbridge against Lisa Raymond and Leander Paes - Woodbridge/Stubbs won 6-4, 5-7, and 11- 9 in a very exciting match tiebreak.
Since the ATP introduced innovative scoring after the Australian Open, I have been watching all the box scores for men's doubles, and without exception all ATP doubles tournaments are now using this format and seem comfortable with it. This is the same format that has now become commonplace with adult and junior USTA sanctioned events not only in the United States but Australia as well. The ATP seems to agree with this format and the women's tour, the WTA, will most likely adopt the same format sometime in the future.
Keep in mind, college tennis has used innovative scoring for years, and adopted the eight game pro set, which has become an even more exciting and more compatible format to fit their needs. It is called the "college doubles format" and is used in all college dual meets. So don't believe what you read - all college coaches do support these innovative formats. In fact, all twenty-two of their summer USTA/College Tournaments use it not only for doubles, but they also use the match tiebreak in lieu of 3rd set for singles as well.
Not only are these innovative formats more time definable, eliminate marathon matches and help prevent injuries, but they are more exciting, leading to the "white knuckle" match tiebreak. Incidentally, the better players are still winning and I know they do occasionally complain about the "sense of urgency" for every point, but I say sorry, welcome to the pressure of major sports and breathtaking overtime!
And let's not forget some of the "older" players who now, with the elimination of marathon three set matches, have the option of sustaining their careers a few more years. Which brings me to John McEnroe and watching him win the SAP Open in San Jose, his effort - encouraged by this format - won him not only prize money and another title, but tremendous media attention as well.
When McEnroe put away match point, he lit up like a ten year old winning his first tournament. And unlike his "bad mouthing," as I described during his broadcast of the US Open mixed doubles final, his after match interview with Barry McKay was gracious - not a negative word about the new SuperScoring format. Thanks John, you took the foot right out of your mouth and put it where it belongs - back on the tennis court!
Special Note: Speaking of doubles, why are juniors still playing 2 out of 3 sets when all of College Tennis (8 game pro set) and the professionals (match tiebreak in lieu of 3rd set) are using innovative scoring? Isn't this upside down?
Well, the Southwest Section have things right side up, and it's thanks to our Southwest USTA Section leaders: current President, Denise Ariew; Past President, Tim Russell and Executive Director, John Austin.