Stars serve up a tennis treat
By MATHEW LOH
IT took the sheer genius of John McEnroe and the Gallic flair of Henri Leconte to provide the excitement to lift a quiet centre court crowd to its feet yesterday, during the opening day of the Marlboro Championship at Victoria Park.
Despite the attraction of former world No 1, Stefan Edberg, the centre court stands were less than half full for the tournament's opening game.
However, as the afternoon wore on, the territory's tennis faithful began to arrive in anticipation of seeing the tournament's main drawcard, McEnroe, in action.
With the opening match, featuring Edberg and Australian Todd Woodbridge, developing into a one-sided affair in the Swede's favour, many fans turned to the beer garden and sponsors' stalls outside.
And it was among the colourful umbrellas and picnic atmosphere of the beer garden that the irony of sporting events being sponsored by cigarette companies became evident, with one vendor offering ''fitness cake'' and another handing out free cigarettes.
In addition to the dried fruit cake, fans were provided with a mouth-watering array of delicacies ranging from bagels topped with fresh salmon to grilled pork sausages.
Kilograms of strawberries were also available, but despite their traditional association with tennis, by 7 pm last night not one had been sold.
''Perhaps it's because of the cloudy weather or maybe Hong Kong fans don't like strawberries,'' said the disappointed vendor.
But as afternoon turned to dusk, the delights of the beer garden were abandoned by fans keen to ensure a court-side seat to see McEnroe exhibit his undoubted brilliance.
However, it was the New Yorker's partner Leconte who provided the first spark of excitement, with his Gallic grunts and remonstrations inspiring loud cheers from the crowd.
Yet for all Leconte's ability, it was McEnroe who had fans perched on the edge of their seats.
Ladies' Recreation Club member Suellen Enestrom summed up the feeling of the fans when she said: ''We're waiting to see McEnroe. It's very exiting, he has so much talent.'' And it was a perfectly pin-pointed McEnroe lob which brought the day's greatest roar from a crowd which, since early afternoon, had swelled to fill about half of the centre court stands.
But to the crowd's disappointment, the infamous McEnroe temper, which earned him the nickname ''superbrat'', wasn't evident.
Twice McEnroe challenged a call, and as he walked towards the smiling umpire you could feel the crowd anticipating a tantrum. But it was not to be, with a mellow McEnroe simply jesting in a jocular, relaxed fashion.