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That Time 59 Year Old McEnroe Gave a Ranked Player A Match

This was a few years back at this point in 2018, but something I wanted to write a short history on.  I believe it speaks to the uniqueness of John McEnroe’s game and his talent and fitness at the age of nearly 60. Watching it, you could see the athletic ability had long since left him, but the craftiness of his game and IQ were clearly apparent. His ability at the net was something that still could give him a chance to make the court smaller.

It was also clear as mentioned on the broadcast the players of the current generation that had just recently moved on to the “Senior” Tour had never really faced player like him in the age of western grips. They mentioned that he had previously given players like Andy Roddick test as well who at the time was still only 34 years old. Roddick had to go to 7-5 to beat McEnroe that night. This was also after multiple years of meetings on the PowerShare Tour where he had chances to play him and adjusted to a player that grew up playing with wood rackets and had such a flat forehand and impeccable volleying skills. He had his chance to come up with a different gameplan and still had a competitive match.

Tommy Haas did not.  Haas was ranked #272 in the world just a month prior to playing McEnroe despite not having played in 10 months. He was still officially ranked #402 in the world when they played and just 9 months removed from beating #5 Roger Federer at the time as well. 

Haas who was recently retired at 40 years old would eventually figure out McEnroe and win the match at 7-5 but it was not easy he certainly didn’t walk over him and it was evident McEnroe’s unique style was foreign to him and was causing a lot of the issues. For those that think it may have been stagged watching it I certainly didn’t get that impression.  There was actually talk shortly after that, about McEnroe coming out of retirement to play in French Open doubles as well as playing Serena who was still at the top. After seeing him play a few times at this age either would have been must-see TV for me.  I think he still had enough at that point to compete.

It’s unfortunate the match was never uploaded to you tube as it played on Fox Sports multiple times, but here is 57 year old Mac playing 33 year old Roddick in the same series you can get a sense of how he was still moving around the same time. McEnroe was asked at 58 years old what he’d rank in the world and he said about 1200th which is probably some decent self-awareness. He went on to say he played at a club with 38 professionals, some high end juniors etc. In saying that, he was kind of also saying he could still compete, but he likely has a great grasp on his abilities in comparison to actually playing guys on the spectrum as well as watching so much tennis.

The only tour level examples I have found where someone this old beat a good player really are Thomas Muster returning at 43 years old.  Leonardo Mayer who was 23 years old and ranked 119th at time and would go on to have a nice career peaking at 21st. That was less than a month before Muster’s 44th birthday. Ken Rosewall would play until 1980 at the age of 46 going 3-3 that season including beating #49 Butch Waits, #82 Tim Wilkinson. I hold that in less regard though given the equipment and it being a less modern game.

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