Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pete Sampras smiles after John McEnroe chased down a shot and hit it for a winner during the Champions Challenge tournament, a 12-city tour, at EnergySolutions Arena Tuesday night. in Salt Lake City, Utah Wednesday, February 26, 2014.
Monson: McEnroe, Sampras show Utah some legendary tennis

First Published Feb 25 2014 08:56 pm • Last Updated Feb 27 2014 11:21 pm

We all stepped into a time tunnel Tuesday night at EnergySolutions Arena and, in the spin, it was easy to come to a couple of conclusions: 1) time exacts its toll on what used to be, and 2) the yearning to take that trip into the past tells you all you need to know about the sorry state of the present.

John McEnroe and Pete Sampras, along with Jim Courier and James Blake, showed up at ESA to play one another in a tennis exhibition that was half-celebration of what once was and half-realization that these guys are half — OK, maybe a little more — the players they used to be. Yeah, Father Time is undefeated in taking on all comers, no matter how many titles they own.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"I’m 42," Sampras answered when he was asked if he’s ever tempted to make a serious return to the grueling sport that he once held by the tennis balls. He ruled the game.

Now, he’s kind of goofing with it.

Even going halfsies that way, though, has advantages over being subjected to the current state of American tennis, a condition that makes lovers of one of the world’s great individual sports in this country turn their heads around. Fond memories of American champions past trump facing the cold realities of bleak prospects for American champions now.

Echoes of victory are preferable to an empty void.

The few thousand willing to buy tickets for the exhibition in Salt Lake City would take a 55-year-old McEnroe and a Sampras over, say, a 28-year-old John Isner or a 26-year-old Sam Querrey.

They already know the sad truth: Where American men have been is a whole lot better than where they are.

Sampras won 14 Grand Slam singles tournaments, McEnroe seven. Throw in Jimmy Connors, who got eight, and Andre Agassi, with another eight, and the path to the top was pretty well worn on this country’s courts. Those guys weren’t all exact contemporaries, but, in extended form, they rolled through the glory days of American tennis, back when winning was the thing.

Now, losing in the second round is the thing.

story continues below
story continues below

Isner is the top American in the current ATP rankings. He’s No. 13. Querrey is second — at No. 56. That’s right, there are only two American male tennis players ranked among the world’s top 56, and neither of them is within shouting distance of Spain’s Rafael Nadal or Serbia’s Novak Djokovic.

From Nadal to Querrey, there are 10 Spaniards. There are eight Frenchmen. There are three Germans. Switzerland and Canada have as many ranked players over that span as the United States, only their guys are much more highly ranked. At least the Swiss have Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, each in the top 10.

There are three other Americans in the lower rungs of the top 100.

It’s as though tennis has been transformed into cross-country skiing or the two-man luge. Next thing, Finland will be crushing us.

"Tennis has lost its edge a little bit," McEnroe said. "There’s not enough interest, as much as I’d like to see. The game’s too expensive. If we could nab some of the guys who are playing basketball and football, we’d be in a helluva lot better shape. But you got to make this game look more sexy, like it’s something they want to do. Grab them when they’re young. You look at the interest in Europe and you see a lot of the best athletes playing tennis. That’s why they’re dominating."

McEnroe said tennis in the U.S. needs to be made more available to young athletes, among other changes.

"One of the things other countries have done is pour more resources into tennis," he said. "You get the better athletes playing tennis, generally speaking. … We have to do what other countries are doing. We have one guy in the top 40."

It’s enough to cause American tennis fans to long for the days of McEnroe, who made every tournament he entered a ridiculous adventure, either because of his deft touch or his petulant behavior, and Sampras, who might have lulled everyone into a coma but who woke one and all by lifting a trophy at fortnight’s end.

And even when the fellas lost, they created some wondrous matches and wicked rivalries with great opponents, so interest in tennis grew. When it comes to championship contention now, the great game, from Florida to Hawaii, is growing all right, growing … dormant.

Where have you gone, Johnny Tennis?

Well, aside from the broadcast booth, he’s playing in mostly meaningless exhibitions like the one at ESA on Tuesday night. He hopes to be an ambassador for the game, spreading the good word as he moves around, competing against the other legends. He seemed to enjoy himself, while taking that competition quite seriously, as did Sampras, Courier and Blake.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.