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Tennis

Legends mix comedy with skill

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2003


TAMPA -- They argued calls and teased ballpersons.

They tossed rackets.

They joked with fans.

And, yes, they played a little tennis.

Saturday night's Volvo Classic at the St. Pete Times Forum was about entertainment, and the four tennis greats -- Tracy Austin, Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova -- did not disappoint the announced 9,123. They each hit their share of spectacular shots and appeared to enjoy the spotlight.

"I had a good time," Austin said.

Austin, a teenage phenom when she burst on the scene after turning professional in 1978 at age 15, won U.S. Open titles in 1979 and '81, but said she had not played a singles match in about 10 years. She spends much of her time at home in Rolling Hills, Calif., raising three children, ages 6, 4 and 1.

Navratilova, on the other hand, won her 57th major title, mixed doubles, at the Australian Open. At 46, she doesn't appear to have lost a step. After warming up, Navratilova took off her jacket, revealing bulging arms that caught the eyes of many.

Navratilova worked Austin hard on every point.

But she also found time to have some fun. After one questionable call, she removed her glasses and said to the official, "Maybe you should try these."

Austin got her share of laughs.

When a fan yelled, "Tracy, pick it up a notch," she shouted back, "This is up a notch." Later, after a call went in her favor, Austin told Navratilova she had given the official $20.

Navratilova won 6-1, 6-3 and at times appeared on cruise control.

"We were both retired legends when I said, 'yes' to this," Austin said. "She's too good. What can I say? She's a Grand Slam champion at 46. That's phenomenal. ... I did my best."

After Navratilova's win, Courier beat McEnroe.

Within minutes of taking the court, McEnroe tossed a racket across the court. During some rants it was obvious he was kidding, but at others one could tell the 44-year-old New Yorker still takes his play seriously.

At one point, after a call went against him, McEnroe screamed, "What?" A fan made the most of the moment, yelling, "You cannot be serious" -- McEnroe's trademark line in the early 1980s when he was at the top of his game and won most of his seven majors.

When McEnroe complained about a call in the first set, Courier, a former No. 1, placed his head on a linesperson's shoulder.

Courier, who spent much of his childhood in Dade City and now divides time between New York and Orlando, defeated McEnroe 7-6, 6-3. Courier also teamed with Navratilova for mixed doubles, winning 8-6 over McEnroe and Austin.

STATE FARM CLASSIC: Second-seeded Kim Clijsters beat Meghan Shaughnessy 6-3, 7-5 in Scottsdale, Ariz., to reach her third final of the year. Because rain forced delays throughout the tournament, Clijsters played two singles and a doubles match Friday. She said she was concerned about her energy level Saturday.

"I started to feel it a little bit toward the end," Clijsters said. "That's why I tried to finish it off in two sets. I'm still young, so I hope I can manage a three-set match."

Clijsters faces Alexandra Stevenson or Ai Sugiyama. Their semi was rained out and rescheduled before today's final.

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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