Memory Lane is a recurring feature in which we dig through photo and video archives for classic moments.
On Jan. 10, 1982, top-ranked John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, then No. 3, almost came to blows during the final of the Michelob Light Challenge in Rosemont, Ill. The match had everything fans had come to expect from the Connors-McEnroe rivalry. It turned into a tense five-set affair full of code violations, point penalties and more arguments than you’d see at the Supreme Court.
In the fifth set, Connors grew tired of McEnroe’s delay tactics and crossed over the net to give him a piece of his mind. And to stick a finger in his face, which McEnroe swatted away before officials finally stepped in to separate the two.
Rewatching that clip, what strikes me most is how nonchalant the announcers are about the confrontation. Nowadays, Serena Williams yells at a linesperson from 15 feet away, and it’s front-page news. Marcos Baghdatis smacks four rackets into the ground and the Internet is all “Oh, my gosh! Can you believe what this crazy guy just did???” Here, Connors crosses the net, verbally abuses McEnroe, the two get physical and the commentators sound like they’re bored. Oh, how times have changed.
Connors won the exhibition match — yes, it was an exhibition — 6-7, 7-5, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4. Here’s what Connors said afterward, as quoted in Randy Walker’s book, On This Day in Tennis History: “I think we both have the same attitudes. He’s aggressive, I’m aggressive. We both stick up for our rights. But I stick up for my rights in a different way. If I feel like I’m in the right, I’ll step up. I want some respect, not sloughing off. But there are certain limits.”
Here’s video of match point. After all that drama, how do the producers justify cutting away from the postmatch handshake?