“That is so disgraceful!”
“You’re a chicken ‘cause you claim you didn’t see it.”
“Thirty years of the same thing!”
“Where’s your cojones?”

Long after tennis umpires around the world thought it was safe to sit in the chair, here comes John McEnroe again. Yep, it’s just like 1989 and McEnroe is on a tear. His doubles partner at the SAP – if your wondering what that is, it’s the world’s largest business software company – Open in San Jose, Jonas Bjorkman, had just hit a beautiful backhand volley that landed on the baseline. Except that the linesperson called it out and, much to McEnroe’s disgust, the chair umpire did not overrule.

That was a big deal because McEnroe and Bjorkman had gotten a break of serve in the previous game and Bjorkman’s “error” gave the break of serve back to their opponents, Ashley Fisher and Tripp Phillips, and evened the second set at 4-4. McEnroe and Bjorkman had won the first set 6-1 and most certainly did not want to go to a third set super tiebreak – the current version of a third set in the ATP world of doubles.

Get this: McEnroe was the only player in the match who did not lose his serve.

As you can see, forty-seven-year old McEnroe is doing just fine. If it was a publicity stunt, it’s not any more. McEnroe and Bjorkman are in the semifinals. Their opponents haven’t been chopped liver either. In the first round they played Wayne Arthurs and Stephen Huss. Huss teamed with Wesley Moodie to beat the Bryan brothers and take the 2005 Wimbledon title. Mac’s hands are more than fast enough to pick off hard shots down the middle, his serve is more than deep enough and twisty enough to hold serve against today’s players. Get this: McEnroe was the only player in the match who did not lose his serve.

Why is McEnroe doing this: “There’s been an ongoing debate about what to do about doubles in the future. Hopefully by me playing this tournament, that will raise the debate and we’ll get some decisions made about where the future of doubles is ‘cause it was great to me. So hopefully there’ll be a place for it in the future.”

Tournament directors could be weaning the public – and the players – off doubles by reducing it until it’s not there at all.

What he means is that the current format of doubles tennis had been decided: no-ad scoring – sudden death at 40-40, super tiebreak instead of a third set – first to ten points win by two, and shorter, fan-friendly matches. But the current, abbreviated version of doubles could be one step towards the extinct version. Tournament directors could be weaning the public – and the players – off doubles by reducing it until it’s not there at all.

You have to appreciate McEnroe’s passion but he might not have much effect on the fate of doubles. He was the exception, a top five singles player who always played doubles. Rafael Nadal plays some doubles but he’s likely to cut back now that he’s had persistent injury problems. Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Roger Federer each played in the doubles draw three times last year.

McEnroe and Bjorkman broke Fisher and Phillips again to go up 6-5 despite some great shotmaking and brilliant returns by Fisher and won the second set 7-5 on a McEnroe backhand volley winner followed by a Bjorkman service winner. They will play Jaroslav Levinsky and Robert Lindstedt in the semis.

Some things change and some things remain the same. McEnroe is still a very good doubles player but electronic line calling (Hawkeye) is still missing in action. I know it’s here somewhere, but I’ve been watching all year and I’ve seen it used once. If McEnroe’s return does anything, it should encourage chair umpires to scream and scream again until Hawkeye is in every stadium. Then again, McEnroe would probably whack the thing with his racket if he had the chance.

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