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Old rivals set to square off at U.S. Open

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They are two of the most popular and fiery men’s tennis players of all time, but Douglaston native John McEnroe and Germany’s Boris Becker have never faced each other at the U.S. Open.

Until now.

As part of the Open’s “Super Saturday,” the former champions will battle on the hardcourts at the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows Corona Park Sept. 8 for $100,000 in the winner-take-all Heineken Challenge after the first prime time women’s final.

“I’m very happy to be part of this event because I think we are going to be an icing on the cake, I believe, to what will be a great night,” said the 42-year-old McEnroe. “I think we can add a little something to the event.”

The women’s final had traditionally been played between the two men’s semifinal matches in the afternoon but Arlen Kantarian, the USTA’s new chief executive officer, wanted to move the women’s final to 8 p.m. in order to attract a prime-time, national television audience on CBS.

“I actually never understood why the women’s final is sandwiched between two semifinals anyway,” said Becker, who won the Open title in 1989. “It’s the championship match. It ought to have a difference place.

“There’s nothing better than a Saturday night, 8 p.m. women’s final. John and myself, we can add something to the evening. It will be fantastic.”

While Becker hasn’t played at Flushing Meadows Corona Park since 1995, it has been nine years since McEnroe last played at the Open. Since then, he has been playing on the Seniors Tour against Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg while also serving as a television commentator.

“I’ve been out there playing and playing well for the past five years on the senior circuit, but it’s time to sort of up the challenge and see what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “This is exactly the person who I believe would give that boost that we need.”

While McEnroe, who won seven Grand Slam singles titles in his storied career, has been active, Becker has not.

“I’m back in training for about six weeks,” said Becker, who was in Spain preparing to join the senior circuit. “I’m playing with my old guys I used to practice with on the men’s circuit a couple of hours a day, plus some gym work.”

Becker, a six-time Grand Slam champion, won eight of 10 career meetings with McEnroe, including the legendary 1987 Davis Cup qualifier at the Hartford Civic Center, winning 4-5, 15-13, 8-10, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. The six-hour, 21-minute match was the second longest men’s tennis match of all time.

“It’s an opportunity for me to play in front of my American fans, especially my [New York] fans, against my old pal and enemy John McEnroe, which for our past we had always the best matches,” Becker said. “I just recall our Davis Cup match in 1987 in Hartford where we played well over six hours. Fortunately, though, we have only a best-of-three match, so maybe an hour-and-a-half match.”

Becker’s last match at the National Tennis Center was against McEnroe’s younger brother, Patrick, in an epic four-set quarterfinal match in 1995 that lasted four hours and seven minutes.

“I think the USTA has done it, I think it’s a really shrewd move to move the finals to a nighttime match. I think the energy there is even better than it is during the day,” McEnroe said. “I’m expecting to feel an incredible amount of energy that night for the women and hopefully for the people that stay to see us.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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