NEW YORK -- The old guys of tennis, led by John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, finally cracked the Big Apple.
The Worldwide Senior Tennis Circuit moved its season-ending Masters to Central Park on Thursday, which McEnroe saw as a vindication of his years-long campaign to get the tour into New York for the first time.
"When you're No. 1, maybe they listen more," McEnroe said in suggesting why he finally prevailed in bringing the championship event to his hometown.. He has replaced Connors as the tour's top player, dominating the circuit since the 1998-99 season when he won eight events.
McEnroe, U.S. Davis Cup captain, leads current standings, after winning seven events and is becoming an enthusiastic booster of the tour.
"It keeps me from having to work for a living," McEnroe said.
After five years in Naples, Fla.., McEnroe saw the move of the Masters to New York as a major boost for the sport, not only the seniors.
"It's great for our credibility," said McEnroe, who already has qualified for the tournament with five events to go. "It will bring a lot more attention and interest to tennis and our tour.
"It's not on the same level as the Grand Slam and the Davis Cup, but it still serves an important purpose."
To say nothing of convenience.
McEnroe lives in Manhattan, within walking distance of Central Park, and takes his youngest children, Emily, Anna, and Eva there to play.
But not where daddy will play June 13-18. A temporary stadium seating 3,000 will be constructed in Wollman Rink, first to be used for a jazz concert and then for the elders of tennis, those 35 and older.
Why did it take from 1993 until now to get to New York?
It wasn't just McEnroe's campaigning, according to Steve Griffth, a spokesman for the tour.
"The tour has grown so that we now have the format, the stars and the sponsorship to make it work in New York," Griffth said.
The growth of the Internet didn't hurt. The Masters is sponsored by LastMinuteTravel.com.
The ideal championship match would be McEnroe, 41, against the 47-year-old Connors, who is No. 4 in the standings behind Henri Leconte and Mats Wilander, said he will be the first person to both skate and play tennis in the rink. All are assured of being in the eight-man field.
McEnroe and Connors caught the attention of New Yorkers with their memorable semifinal matchups at the U.S. Opens from 1978-1980. McEnroe won two and Connors one, and each time the winner went on to capture the title.
Connors hasn't played in New York since 1991 when he lost in the Open semifinals to Jim Courier. McEnroe last played competitive tennis in New York in 1992 when he lost in the U.S. open quarterfinals.