Imagine this scene at The Racquet Club of Memphis, say 30-plus years ago:
Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe are in the Stadium Court. Jimmy goes cross-court with a two-handed backhand and the ball just catches the line … or does it?
John McEnroe is enraged – again – but then there is a pause as everyone awaits the verdict from the Hawk-Eye instant-replay system.
Fans watching the big screen see that the linesman got this one right, only …
“I’m not sure if either one of them (McEnroe or Connors) would agree even if Hawk-Eye said it was in,” said Peter Lebedevs, tournament director of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships at The Racquet Club.
Back in the day – and the annual pro tennis tournament began in 1976 – there was no replay system. This year, for the first time, there will be. Fourteen cameras will be positioned around Stadium Court. Lebedevs says tournament partner The West Clinic made possible the addition of the replay system, which has become a staple at Grand Slam events and other upper-echelon tournaments.
McEnroe, by the way, could get the chance to question the instant replay system. On Monday, Feb. 20, he will team with 19-year-old hotshot American Jack Sock in an exhibition doubles match against James Blake and Sam Querrey, who won the 2010 tournament here.
“He boosts ticket sales and he can still play good tennis,” Lebedevs said of McEnroe, who won the tourney in 1980.
For his part, McEnroe recently said of returning to Memphis: “The crowd knows the sport. It’s good. When you are playing in a smaller space … it makes you want to play because if you don’t they sort of get on you.”
The Stadium Court is intimate, with no seat more than 62 feet away from the action. The Memphis International, the women’s side of the tournament, will feature three players in the Top 50 and No. 1 seed Nadia Petrova (Russia) will play immediately following the McEnroe match.
On the men’s side, American Andy Roddick – a three-time winner here – returns with another Top 20 player, American John Isner.
The women’s Memphis International runs Feb. 19-25 and the men’s Regions Morgan Keegan Championships runs Feb. 20-26 at the Racquet Club. The John McEnroe Exhibition Doubles Match will be held Monday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m.
With the new replay system, players will be allowed three “challenges” per set.
Count on JohnnyMac using ’em all.
Don Wade is a native of Kansas City and a former feature writer for The Kansas City Star and sports reporter for The Commercial Appeal. His column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News.