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Serving up history: Former pros compete in first-ever tennis event at Barclays

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It wasn’t the US Open — but it was still historic.

Tennis made its Barclays Center debut on Jan. 7 as former pros John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake, and Andy Roddick added to their impressive resumes, becoming the first to play at the arena. The quartet competed in the PowerShares QQQ Cup, a cross-country event that may not be a Grand Slam, but it still brings out that competitive edge in some of the sport’s biggest names.

“I think it’s great to have tennis back here. I’ve never had a chance to play a tournament in Brooklyn. I’ve obviously played quite a bit in Queens — all of us have,” Courier said, referring the annual US Open held in the borough. “I think it’s special to be part of something when you’re introducing it to a venue like this.”

The PowerShares tour is a chance for the stars to interact a bit more with fans — even bringing some onto the court for skills competitions in between sets — but these are still athletes, and athletes always want to win.

Blake came out on top at the end, defeating McEnroe 6–4 in the one-set final — his third championship on the tour this season. He also notched a 6–4 victory over Roddick in the semi, bantering back and forth with both of his opponents and even shouting back to the crowd when they cheered (and jeered) him.

“Andy [Roddick] and I have played so many times and we continue that competitive spirit,” said Blake. “We obviously don’t train exactly the same as we used to on tour, but we still get competitive when we get out there, and it’s a lot of fun to still have that competitive outlet. I just love the opportunity.”

The tour also offered Roddick and Blake a chance to compete against some of their ideals, a moment they both dreamt about while they were growing up and fine-tuning their game.

“I think it’s great for fans. James [Blake] and I can play as peers, Jim and John as peers, but there’s also that cross-generational match-ups, which are awesome,” Roddick said. “For me, it’s fun playing against friends of mine, heroes of mine. For me it’s a mix between reality and the surreal every night we play.”

All four players were a bit more vocal than usual on the court — even McEnroe, who played up his hotheaded persona for the fans — and the chance to entertain was also a big part of the tour, member so the group said.

“I like to compete, but we obviously want to entertain,” said McEnroe, who took down Courier 6–3 in the semifinals. “[It’s] one set so at least I have a prayer. It pushes me.”

Tennis has always been a major part of New York’s athletic culture, but the opportunity to bring the sport to fans in Brooklyn was something special for these stars.

“[We’re] getting to enjoy it, and to still enjoy the sport,” Blake said. “I’m pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy it and it makes it a lot of fun to go out and compete every day.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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