Tuesday, November 28, 2023

When John McEnroe’s Tennis Over America Tour' Came to Phoenix

This will be of little to no interest to anyone who didn't grow up in a racket club, but while at my parents' house for the holiday I discovered a cache of old photos from my ball-boying days. (It was the first I had seen of them!) 

As was always the case, local tournament -- or in this case exhibition -- organizers would recruit area junior players as ball kids when the pros came to town. The year was 1982 and John McEnroe had just dethroned Bjorn Borg as the No. 1 player in the world -- so he decided to take his show on the road. His opponent would be Vijay Amritraj, a good two years before he upset Mac in Cincinnati. And the undercard featured Stacy Margolin, who was dating Mac at the time, versus 12-year-old Stephanie Rehe, who was thought to be the next big thing, and two college men.

My brother Bill, who ball-boyed with me for World Team Tennis, must have been away at the University of Arizona at the time. Since it was my parents' camera, it looks like the photos are nearly all (attempts at capturing) me, except for the one directly below, which is Greg, my AZ-BFF.  

Greg, who tells me he doesn't even remember this, in action

The whole thing seemed to go off without a hitch -- McEnroe was perfectly nice to all of us -- but looking at a news article from the time, it seems it was a bit of a bust. (I guess even in the "heyday" of tennis it wasn't easy to get people in seats, particularly on a Tuesday evening.) The main thing I remember is being embarrassed for John when they blasted "The Boy From New York City" by the Manhattan Transfer as he came onto the court -- and how relieved I was that I didn't screw anything up! 

From The Arizona Republic, April 15, 1982:
John McEnroe flew to Tokyo on Wednesday for his next tournament, leaving in his wake speculation as to why only about 4,500 tennis fans turned out Tuesday night for an exhibition match to watch the world's top tennis player. 

Promoter Steve Corey, president of Incoreel Management Consultants, which staged the exhibition, said: "It's highly unlikely the McEnroe tour will return to Phoenix. I wonder where we went wrong."  The high cost of tickets $17.60, $15 and $12.50 was the primary reason there were so many empty, seats in Veterans Memorial Coliseum, according Mike Blanchard, a Phoenix resident who referees at the U.S. Open. The Coliseum has a capacity of more than 14,000. "In my opinion, the seats were way overpriced," Blanchard said, "particularly for that type of match with the caliber of the players." 

"Of course McEnroe is a great attraction and Vijay [Amritraj] is a good player [ranked 24th in the world], but people don't know him very well." 

Corey said McEnroe's "Tennis Over America Tour" stop at St Louis on Monday for a match against Roscoe Tanner had drawn 6,000 spectators at ticket prices ranging from $10 to $16. 

A Bjorn Borg-Jimmy Connors exhibition that had been tentatively set for Oct. 5 in Phoenix has been canceled, Corey said after Tuesday's poor showing. Possible sites for that event include Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland, Ore. "When you tour cities without major professional tournaments," Corey said, "you go back to the cities where they support you."

From The Arizona Republic, March 13, 1982:
John McEnroe, the world's No. 1 -ranked tennis professional, is coming to Phoenix on April 13 for an exhibition, the 11th stop in a tour conceived by McEnroe as an attempt to take tennis to America. Called the Great Western Bank Tennis Challenge, the exhibition also will be sponsored by the Phoenix Gazette, radio station KOPA-FM and Diamonds. 

It will be played at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Five matches are planned, starting at 6 p.m. In the feature, McEnroe will play a two-out-of-three set singles match against Vijay Amritraj, captain of India's 1982 Davis Cup team. McEnroe, who has the reputation of being tennis' bad boy, set out to counter that image last September by giving something back to the sport, touring America and playing in cities that don't have major tennis tournaments. Phoenix will be the 11th city on the tour. 

In addition to the McEnroe-Amritraj confrontation, top amateurs will compete. In the first match of the evening, Stephanie Rehe, 12, tentatively ranked No. 1 for 1981 in girls' 12s by the U. S. Tennis Association and thought to be the next Tracy Austin, will challenge Stacy Margolin, a touring pro and former star at the University of Southern California. Then pro Peter Rennert, a former Stanford Ail-American, will face Robert Van't Hof, 1980 NCAA champion for USC. 

P.S. If anyone remembers a Chris-Martina exhibition in Tucson, around 1984, please get in touch. 

1 comment:

  1. I love that you were a "ball boy!" Here, I was wasting my miss-spent youth building tree houses.


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