Remember the old rule, Mac, champs never come back

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 October, 1993, 12:00am

COME on, Mac, you cannot be serious.

Gracing Hong Kong with his tennis genius in recent days, John McEnroe has hinted at a return to the big time at the age of 34.

He said he would use the Marlboro Championships exhibition tournament at Victoria Park to gauge his fitness and his form against some of the world's top-ranked players. If he was happy with how he played, he said, he would consider ''stepping up'' - in other words, rejoining the official professional tour.

While it was a treat to watch McEnroe in action again at Victoria Park, as an avid supporter of the man for many years I would be sad to see him come out of semi-retirement and take to the road.

It would be sad to see him losing to younger and hungrier professionals, just like he did to Todd Witsken in the first round of the 1991 Salem Open ATP Tour event in Hong Kong.

It would be sad to see his delicate touch-tennis blown away by today's relentless power players.

And it would be sad to see him searching for that extra gear, that extra bit of motivation when it was most needed, and finding that the cupboard was bare, that it simply wasn't there any more. In its place he would find only frustration, despair and ultimately defeat.

I prefer to remember the McEnroe of old, the McEnroe who won four US Open titles and three Wimbledons - the McEnroe who achieved perfection in 1984 with his straight-sets demolition of Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon final.

Happy memories, indeed.

The modern-day McEnroe, his hair greying around the red bandanna, is still capable of producing some sublime shots, as his victim on Wednesday, an injured Mark Woodforde, will tell you.

In the very first game of that match, McEnroe turned the clock back with a delicious drop volley to leave Woodforde stranded. On another occasion he beat Woodforde with an elegant top-spin forehand pass on the run and then, taking a Woodforde return on the up, pinged a classic backhand down the line; none of this mechanical, double-fisted robo-tennis.

When a photographer distracted McEnroe a few seconds after the umpire had appealed for no flash photography, McEnroe asked the offender: ''Are you deaf or are you just ignorant?'' And when a linesman failed to give McEnroe the benefit of the doubt on a baseline call, McEnroe pointed out that he needed help from the officials because he was getting old.

''It's a new rule,'' he said to the linesman. ''I'll tell you whether it's in or out, all right?'' Great entertainment from a truly great player.

And I, for one, hope McEnroe will stick to exhibition tennis.

He does not need the money, he does not need the exposure . . . and he does not need to be beaten by players with only a fraction of his talent.

It's a dog's life with baying fans SOME things never change for the much maligned man in black (or in green, if we're talking about the English Premiership).

Just ask Scottish referee Alistair Knox, who has been officiating in the Hong Kong First Division for the past 14 years.

After South China had been held to a 1-1 draw by Kui Tan at Mongkok Stadium on Tuesday, a large group of Caroliners fans gathered outside the changing rooms - and they weren't there to offer Knox their best wishes in his 25th year as a top-flight referee and linesman.

''They were quite voracious, baying for my blood,'' said Knox, a 45-year-old civil structural engineer.

''They thought South China should have had a couple of penalties but I didn't.'' To protect the Glasgow-born ref from the South China fans, a Hong Kong FA official opened a side door and Knox was able to sneak to safety through Mongkok's sidestreets.

''Hong Kong is getting like the UK now with partisan supporters. Instead of being football supporters they are team supporters. That's good in a way but we could do without the throwing of water bottles at officials,'' he added.

Angry fans are nothing new to Knox, who, during his time as a referee and linesman, has needed a police escort after turning down Celtic claims for a penalty in an Old Firm derby against Rangers at Celtic Park and who has been attacked by police dogs in aMotherwell-Celtic Cup tie.

Sounds like a dog's life to me.

Willowy days of yesteryear NOSTALGIA was flowing thick and fast down at the Craigengower Cricket Club on Friday evening.

If you closed your eyes and found a quiet corner, you could almost hear the crack of willow on leather and conjure up images of the first league match played in Hong Kong, between CCC and the Civil Service CC, now known as the Centaurs, on Saturday, October 24, 1903.

For the record the match was a draw - but clearly the rules, which had been devised only two days earlier, needed some fine-tuning.

The Civil Service were dismissed for exactly 100 in 42 overs, leaving Craigengower enough time to bat only 13 overs, in which they reached 71 for four.

Both sides failed to recover from dropping a point in their opening fixture, leaving the Army Ordnance Corps to become the first champions of Hong Kong cricket.

Sports Person of the Week: Ho Kim-fai, Hong Kong's girl with the golden oars. She followed up her East Asian Games gold medal in Shanghai last May with gold in the Asian Rowing Championships in South Korea yesterday.

Sports Quote of the Week: ''I don't know how I got the bat on the ball - but a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while'' - Jim Eisenreich after his three-run homer helped the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Toronto Blue Jays 6-4 in Game Two of the World Series.