The Tour Highlights 2003-2005
In many ways, McEnroe had been responsible for the shift of the ATP Champions Tour from hit-and-giggle tennis into a competitive circuit showcasing the players that fans know and love. He demanded excellence from everyone around him, and goaded his opponents into arriving in shape every week.
In 2003, the arrival of Thomas Muster at the event in Eindhoven was a perfect example. Despite never officially announcing his retirement, the Austrian had stopped playing professionally some years earlier, moved to Australia, and lived a life as far removed from the ultra-focused and dedicated iron-man of tennis that we used to know as he possibly could. He put on weight, lots of it. So much so that a doctor told him that if he didn’t stop, he could be in real trouble. So, he got in shape, and arrived at the event in Eindhoven at his old fighting-weight. He didn’t win the tournament - McEnroe providing a timely reminder of his skills by winning their tussle - but Muster was back. McEnroe, incidentally, won over the local fans by wearing a Holland-Orange shirt in his final victory over Korda. The American then went to London and won the title at the age of 44 - three years after his most recent triumph.
The arrival of Muster the previous year sparked an influx of new champions onto the circuit in 2004. Jim Courier was a welcome addition, not least because fans and media had never really got to know the American when he was the World No.1 in the early 1990’s. By the time he arrived on the ATP Champions Tour, Courier was a fully developed human being who acknowledged that life would have been better for himself, fans and the media had he become World No.1 at the age of 31, not 21. Still, Champions Tennis gave him an opportunity to reinvent himself, and he did exactly that, charming everyone he encountered. On the court, his forehand was still as brutal as ever, and it carried him to the title in the Algarve, and then in London.
Richard Krajicek and Sergi Bruguera also joined the Tour. Krajicek looked the same as ever, but Bruguera had swapped his short-back-and-sides for a flowing pony-tail.
Thankfully, for the sake of his health, Goran Ivanisevic had finally won the Wimbledon title he had so craved in 2001. For the next three or four years, Goran lived a serene existence, playing a few ATP tournaments, one last Wimbledon, and then retiring with a huge smile on his face. He also made a wild-card appearance at Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis’ event in Eindhoven and got a taste for a different kind of tennis tour. In 2005, the popular Croatian joined the ATP Champions Tour properly, and it was a perfect fit. Goran reveled in the convivial atmosphere where winning and losing is still important but not the be-all and end-all. He enjoyed the crowds, the camaraderie and the chance to keep fit, and the Tour loved having him on-board.
He won titles in Essen and Eindhoven and would have played in the Masters Tennis in London had it not been for the Croatian Davis Cup team calling him out of retirement to inspire their victory in the final. He didn’t play, but his mere presence made a difference. The Masters Tennis was won by Dutchman Paul Haarhuis, who shocked Jim Courier in the final and began a quite astonishing dominance of the season-ending event.