The Tour Highlights 1997-1999
The Masters Tennis event at the Royal Albert Hall launched in 1997, with the long-awaited London rematch between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg taking place in the round-robin stages.
Borg had retired in his prime at 26, denying McEnroe and the rest of the tennis-loving-world their chance to see these two goliaths meet as many times as most of us would have liked. The Masters Tennis event in London gave everyone a second chance, and the players didn’t disappoint, wowing crowds at the Royal Albert Hall and a huge British television audience. McEnroe triumphed, and then went on to take the title with victory over Henri Leconte in the final.
In 1998, the ATP Champions Tour visited the Middle East for the first time, with Doha, Qatar the venue. McEnroe and Borg clashed again, this time in the final, and once more McEnroe was the victor. While the Champions’ Tie-Break has been a popular addition to the circuit, McEnroe pleaded with the Chair Umpire to let them play a full third set after levelling at one set all, such was the quality of tennis on show.
Later that year, the circuit visited Portschach in Austria, Zagreb (Croatia) and Frankfurt (Germany) before arriving in London (England). For the only time since its inception, the event in London was played away from the Royal Albert Hall because the singer Cliff Richard had already booked the venue. Olympia therefore played host to the event, and McEnroe again won, beating Yannick Noah in the final. One of the off-court highlights of the year was the sight of McEnroe in Doha, dressed in local clothing and dancing to local music at the Players’ Party. “It was actually quite comfortable,” said McEnroe.
The circuit returned to Doha, Qatar once more to start the 1999 circuit, but this time McEnroe could not compete because the event clashed with the birth of his youngest daughter, Ava.
The event was notable for being the only tournament in the Tour’s history to be won by Mansour Bahrami, the Iranian best known for entertaining crowds with his sensational array of trick-shots in doubles exhibitions in-between ATP Champions Tour matches. Bahrami beat Pat Cash, Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte en route to the title, sealing victory with a through-the-legs lob with his back turned to his opponent!
Later that year, the circuit visited Aland in Finland (a tournament won by McEnroe), and culminated in London, with the Masters Tennis returning once more to the Royal Albert Hall. McEnroe made it three wins out of three with victory over Henri Leconte, who was forced to retire with a back injury.