Seven-time grand slam singles champion John McEnroe gave Japan’s top player a run for his money on Sunday before losing 1-6, 6-4 and 10-7 in a tiebreaker in a charity match for the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Playing in Japan for the first time since 1997, the 54-year-old McEnroe took on Kei Nishikori, the 23-year-old Japanese star who rose to No. 11 in the world rankings this year.
The score hardly mattered as Sunday’s match was about raising money for the Tohoku Tennis Association to help rebuild and rejuvenate tennis in the region devastated by the March 11, 2011, disaster.
“Considering I just got in a few days ago, my body was moving pretty well,” McEnroe said. “I was able to make some good shots but he took some mercy on me.”
In addition to his competitive spirit, McEnroe showed flashes of his famous wit.
“Is this a tennis match or a day-care center, what the heck is going on here?” he shouted to a sold-out crowd of 10,000 when a crying baby interrupted a serve.
With the score tied 6-6 in the tiebreak, McEnroe gave an assessment of his opponent’s condition — “looks like he’s runnin’ out of gas” — and made a few of his trademark rants over close calls and the occasional thrown racket.
McEnroe said he was more than happy to visit Japan and help out the people on the country’s northeastern coast.
“It’s good to try to help people through a difficult time,” McEnroe said. “Unfortunately, disasters like this seem to be happening more and more these days.”
Nishikori, who has helped contribute to a rejuvenation of tennis in Japan in recent years, said he was impressed with his opponent’s play.
“He played a lot better than I expected,” Nishikori said. “I was surprised. His shots were very good. I really enjoyed playing against him and it was a great experience.”