WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- When they met eight years ago in the semifinals of Wimbledon, John McEnroe was, at 25, the best player in the world. Pat Cash of Australia was 19 and considered one of the most promising. McEnroe beat Cash in three sets and went on to the last of his three championships here.
When they meet again today in a second-round match, McEnroe and Cash will be looking to recapture some of their wonderful past at the All England Club. McEnroe is ranked 30th, Cash is 191st. Yet Centre Court should be, as they say here, all agog for this confrontation between two of the game's most explosive personalities.
"It's one of those occasions where either of us really don't know whether we'll be back playing next year or the year after, or whatever," said Cash, whose career has been plagued by injuries before and after he beat Ivan Lendl in the Wimbledon final five years ago. "I've still got a lot of years on my side, but I know he wants to do well."
McEnroe and Cash share more than just a penchant for complaining loudly, and often abusively, about calls. Though Cash's game is a forerunner to the power tennis that seems to be the norm these days, he and McEnroe remain two of the finest practitioners of the serve-and-volley. They also share the fantasy of being rock stars.
Last week, the two took stage (along with top seed Jim Courier on the drums) at the Hard Rock Cafe for a little impromptu jam session. Asked about the prospect of playing one of his friends, Cash said, "That's just part of the game. If it's your best buddy you've got to play against, that's it. It's like going to work, you've just got to do it."
Cash caused a bit of a stir after his opening-round match Tuesday by suggesting that the grass on Centre Court has been allowed to grow longer, and the balls don't have as much bounce in them, in order to negate the big hitters who dominate the sport.
"It was quite strange out there; I couldn't believe it actually," said Cash, who received a wild-card invitation into the tournament. "You know, just because there are a lot of big servers around, they think they all of a sudden have to change the grass around and the balls around. I mean, it's just ridiculous. It's just silly. They're panicking. What do you expect on grass?"
* Much is made here every year when British players win a match. Their record is so pitiful that someone recently took odds of 1,000-1 that his newly born son would become Wimbledon champion before any of the current players.
So when Jeremy Bates won his opening-round match Tuesday, there was a lot of excitement of yet another comeback by the country that is host to the world's most famous tournament and hasn't turned out a top player since Virginia Wade.
Bates certainly didn't get too carried away.
"It's only one match," said Bates.
Bates was correct. Countryman Chris Wilkinson jumped ahead of Sanford Stolle -- son of former Australian great Fred Stolle -- in a second-round match yesterday. But after splitting the first two sets, Wilkinson lost a brutal tiebreaker and wound up losing the match, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11), 6-4.
"It was a good lift," Wilkinson said of Bates' victory. "It's disappointing losing, but I couldn't do any more."
* There are three press rooms at the All England Club, one for the British Lawn Tennis Writers, one for international media and one for those who wish to smoke while they write. And now there is one unofficial press room.
In a parking lot.
Seems that two writers, Ian Wooldridge of the Daily Mail and Bruce Wilson of the Melbourne, Australia Herald Sun, have been evicted from the British room for using -- gasp -- manual typewriters.
Wrote Wooldridge, "Apparently the noise is debilitating to colleagues honing iambic rhythm and epigrammatic wit into stanzas capturing the ethereal beauty of Pat Cash's backhand."
Only problem with the parking lot press room is if it rains.