'You cannot be serious!'


Old-school tennis, anyone?

The sport is good now, but it was great in the 1980s. John McEnroe was the top draw, with a magnetic personality and tirades matching tennis intensity unseen before or since.

The Family Circle Cup has been swell so far this week. It gets better tonight as McEnroe, 51, headlines an exhibition event on Stadium Court also featuring former stars Monica Seles, Anna Kournikova and Jim Courier. McEnroe will play Courier in a singles match with mixed doubles to follow.

The four players in the "Game, Set, Rock. Tennis Amplified" event will wear microphones, necessary or not.

"I don't usually need a mic. I can usually raise my voice," McEnroe said in a phone interview. "I think I've shown people that I'm relatively comfortable in front of a crowd and I think I've also shown I can raise my voice when I need to."

McEnroe won four U.S. Open titles and three Wimbledon titles in his prime but is best known for a marathon five-set loss to Bjorn Borg in 1980 and an infamous dispute with a chair umpire in 1981, both at Wimbledon. Protesting a line call, McEnroe screamed, among other things, "You cannot be serious!"

It became the title of his autobiography and the theme of McEnroe's current rental car commercial.

"I only said it that one time at Wimbledon, but that's the catch-phrase everyone remembers," McEnroe said. "It's like the Wimbledon final against Borg in '80 -- people come up and ask me 100 times more about that match than any other. It's the same thing with that phrase. They don't really remember where I said it or when, but they just associate me with that."

Though still as opinionated as ever, the man once labeled "Super Brat" has matured. He is married to singer Patty Smyth, does tennis television commentary, pulls for the New York Mets and plays lots of exhibition matches.

"As I've gotten older, my perspective in general has improved and made me realize what I was able to accomplish and what I have," McEnroe said. "Combine that with a family life -- and I'd like to think I'm a good husband and father -- and you're sort of better able to appreciate things rather than looking at some of the things that made it trickier to navigate when I was younger."

Tonight's exhibition is a Family Circle Cup addition to a WTA event holding steady in attendance figures despite injury withdrawal announcements last week from high-profile stars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Seles, 36, won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Courier, 39, won four Grand Slam singles titles.

Kournikova, 28 and no longer on the WTA Tour, reached No. 8 in the rankings in 2000. But she never won a WTA Tour event and is better known for her glamour shots and flashy lifestyle.

"There was a couple of years when she was young, and especially when she was going out with (former professional hockey star Sergei) Fedorov, when she really focused on her conditioning and was one of the best conditioned players out there," McEnroe said.

"Anna wasn't as big and strong as the top players, but she did make it up to No. 8 in the world and I think people lose sight of that. She was a legitimate top 10 player when she was at the top of her game."

McEnroe isn't as down on the state of men's professional tennis as some analysts, but says the sport needs an influx of talented young Americans.

He does not dispute the theory that tennis in general lacks the colorful personalities of a generation ago.

"Even the No. 100 guy seemed to have a personality," McEnroe said. "Maybe I'm biased. Maybe it was because I lived that era, but it just seems like that was the greatest time in tennis."