Fuming Leconte takes on McEnroe at his own game

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 November, 1999, 12:00am

Henri Leconte crossed the line in tennis yesterday.

A heated verbal exchange with John McEnroe - both players standing toe-to-toe and trading insults more in the fashion of pugilists than tennis players - enlivened the third night's play at the Cathay Pacific Champions tournament at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The altercation began in the second set when Frenchman Leconte smashed a shot which the solitary line judge - on Leconte's side of the court - ruled in. McEnroe protested and the chair umpire overruled.

Leconte apparently could not believe what had happened. Incensed at McEnroe's intervention and his behaviour, he then jumped over the net to his opponent's side, walked up to McEnroe and began arguing.

The players stood face-to-face for almost a minute as they engaged in a verbal barrage.

McEnroe was heard to say: 'I don't give a f***, it was out.' Leconte replied: 'Why don't you quit tennis if you don't like it.' Shocked, and incredulous, fans watched not knowing if this was all part of the act in this exhibition tournament which is not part of the ATP Senior Tour.

But when four-letter words started flying around the court, everyone knew the tennis had got serious.

'I was a little bit upset,' said Leconte afterwards.

McEnroe said his opponent's behaviour was shocking.

'The fact is he missed the ball. I didn't realise that it is legal in tennis to jump over the net and come on to your opponent's side. He is perfectly free to complain to the umpire but he was not free to come over to the other side and confront me.

'It is clearly stated in the rules that if you do that, you will be disqualified and it would be the end of the match. I know this is officially not part of the ATP Senior Tour, but I don't know by what rule book he is playing. I should not be dis-respected on court,' said McEnroe.

He added: 'Some people who were pouring champagne down their throats might have thought it was great . . . that he was standing up to John McEnroe. But the truth is he crossed the line.' Leconte brushed aside the fact that he had broken tennis etiquette.

'This is not an ATP event. It is an exhibition tournament.

'If I told you what he said, I'm sure you would have crossed the line too.

'I don't want to be treated like a s***. I'm a man and I'm a decent person. But sometimes I go crazy, even more than McEnroe,' said Leconte.

McEnroe won the match 6-4, 7-5 in the end. And he did shake hands with his opponent, but not before screaming at the crowd, who had probably supported Leconte, and then kicked a ball into the stands.

'I won't be going out for drinks with him tonight,' said McEnroe. 'Hopefully tomorrow is another day.' Both McEnroe and Leconte have a chance of meeting again in the final. They have both qualified for the semi-finals today.

From the other group, Swede Mats Wilander and France's Yannick Noah qualified.