Aces high: Legends a Capital hit

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

Many probably came to see Anna Kournikova, but they left remembering John McEnroe.

It's been more than 20 years since McEnroe was the dominant player in tennis, but he showed he can still put on a show last night.

The 46-year-old gave the crowd at the Corel Centre what they wanted: A little racquet hurling, some self-loathing screams and some flashes of his once-brilliant serve-and-volley game in his one-set match with Jim Courier, which McEnroe won, 8-7 (7-5).

In a nice gesture, McEnroe auctioned off a racquet he cracked during the match with the money going to hurricane relief. He got $2,300 for it (Kournikova joined the bidding) and then McEnroe matched the winning bid with his own donation.

"C'mon, is this the cheap side?" he chastised some court-side spectators. "This is the racket I used to beat (Bjorn) Borg at Wimbledon," he said during one lull in the bidding. "Okay, maybe that's stretching it a bit."

Great stuff.

Kournikova looked stunning in a red, short shirt and skirt. She warmed up wearing a lime green sweat jacket and drew several appreciative hoots from the crowd when she took it off for her match with Hall-of-Famer Jana Novotna, which Novotna won 6-3.

Kournikova hit her shots with a small grunt while her long, blonde braid swirled about her head with each stroke. A tattoo peaked out from her lower back between her shirt and the top of her skirt.

"I've never been able to play well against (Novotna). I lost three straight times in singles," said Kournikova when interviewed after the match for the crowd.

"I don't like her game, too many slices for me," she said with a laugh.

McEnroe and Courier, the former world No. 1, followed the ladies and put on a great show.

McEnroe drew applause and cheers from the crowd when, after Courier executed a perfect drop shot to win a point in the fifth game, he flung his racquet into the net.

That was what the crowd wanted to see, a little of the l'enfant terrible act which McEnroe perfected as the bad boy of tennis.

When things didn't go his way, he shouted and shook his head or stalked his side of the court, picking at his shirt. He had both the crowd and Courier laughing when he pulled his blue shorts down to mimic the long shorts favoured by a few of today's players.

McEnroe also showed flashes of his greatness. McEnroe and Courier later combined with Kournikova and Novotna for mixed doubles.

The night also gave a chance for Ottawa youngsters Jesse Levine, 17, and Gabriela Dabrowski, 13, to rub shoulders with greatness as they came in to help out in doubles.

They took on McEnroe and Kournikova, splitting four games.

'CHAMPION OF CANADA'

"C'mon, Anna, right at the girl," said McEnroe. "She's the champion of Canada."

Levine has his own Grand Slam title, having won the junior Wimbledon doubles title with partner Michael Shabaz this summer. He also reached the quarter-finals in singles. He also reached the round of 16 at the junior French Open.

He's now looking at playing some events on the Futures circuit, the lowest rung of pro tennis.

"I'm going to work on getting a little stronger," said Levine, who now trains out of Boca Raton, Fla., but was back at the Ottawa Athletic Club this past week. "To get to the next level, I have to be stronger."

Dabrowski is another rising star. She captured both the Ontario and national U14 singles and double titles this year. Last December, she finished third in the U12 division at the Jr. World Orange Bowl Championships in Miami. She currently trains at the OAC under Tony Milo.

"When I heard we were going to get a chance to play with them, I thought it was unreal, amazing," said Dabrowski.

After the Levine-Dabrowksi duo beat them, McEnroe asked Courier, "You want to be humiliated by a couple of young Canadians?"

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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