The adulation appeared to inspire McEnroe, not that the ultra-intense veteran needed another reason to play his best. A year ago at MSG, he was forced to pull out of a match with Ivan Lendl (the same night Sampras and Agassi squared off in the main event), and you could tell it was a real disappointment for Johnny Mac. All that determination—along with some surprisingly swift court coverage—combined with an error-filled performance from Agassi earned McEnroe a 4-0 lead, and soon the set/match, 6-4. (When McEnroe failed to serve it out at 5-3, he looked positively disgusted.) He was joined in the final by Rafter, who took advantage of Sampras’ calf strain in a 6-3 win that wasn’t even that close. And so the title bout featured an Australian, a left-handed American, and two guys who serve-and-volley—I told you it was a diversion.
Rafter, who watched most of the McEnroe-Agassi match from the baseline seats with fans, prevailed 8-3 to win his second consecutive tournament, and drew plenty of cheers from the American crowd (a good tan can do that). But McEnroe and his unwavering connection to tennis might be the takeaway from the evening. During a player party before the matches, McEnroe was on stage and spoke about the current Big Four—I thought I was watching TV, as his ubiquitous commentary invariably touches upon the ATP’s top tier (and the fact that technology has changed the game). On the court, you know what you’re going to get from Mac—a “can-opener serve,” according to Pete Bodo, and a volley into the open court—but players are still helpless to stop it. And what would a McEnroe match be without an argument with a linesperson, a thrown racquet, and a “You cannot be serious!” shout from a patron?