50-Year-Old McEnroe Beats Pernfors in Opener at Seniors Rio

Posted on March 13, 2009

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, March 12 -- Fifty-year-old John McEnroe, inspired by a morning visit to Rio's famed Maracana soccer stadium, defeated Mikael Pernfors of Sweden 6-2, 6-4 in his opening round-robin match Thursday at the $150,000 Rio Champions Cup. Also registering round-robin wins Thursday were Jim Courier, who defeated Pat Cash of Australia 6-0, 7-6 (5) and Jimmy Arias, who came back to defeat Brazil's Jaime Oncins 4-6, 6-3, 10-4 (Champions Tie-Break). The Rio Champions Cup is the second of eight events on the 2009 Outback Champions Series, the global tennis circuit for champion tennis players 30 and over.

McEnroe, playing in his first tournament since turning 50 years old on February 16, spent the morning with Courier, Cash, Brazil's Fernando Meligeni and 1994 Brazilian World Cup soccer star Bebeto touring, kicking soccer balls and posing for pictures in the famed Brazilian soccer stadium.

"I will be able to tell my kids that I came to Maracana, on the field, because Maracana means to soccer, what Wimbledon means to tennis," said McEnroe. "I had played soccer before in other stadiums, but nothing compares to Maracana."

A soccer fan, McEnroe, before leaving the stadium, asked Bebeto to take a picture with him, as a souvenir. Said McEnroe, "It is an honor to be here with Bebeto, with a guy who has won the soccer World Cup."

On the tennis courts, Courier jumped on Cash early and held on to win a second-set tie-break on the fast, indoor hard court of the HSBC Arena. Courier's win avenged his loss to the 1987 Wimbledon champion in the final of the Hall of Fame Champions Cup in Newport, R.I. last August.

"In a tournament like this where you have to win four matches, you have to start well," said Courier. "It is an advantage to win the first match, and that is what I did. I started playing very, very well, but Cash raised his level of play in the second set. He started serving better and it got tough."

Arias came back from a set and a break down to defeat Oncins in a Champions Tie-break.

Round-robin play continues Friday and Saturday with the championship match and third-place matches scheduled for Sunday.