Would John McEnroe be OK with losing Thursday’s tennis exhibition? You cannot be serious!

You cannot be serious!

That four-word phrase is screamed from the stands at every senior men’s tennis event John McEnroe is a part of, and it undoubtedly will be yelled many times again Thursday night in Charlotte when McEnroe plays in the Champions Cup at Time Warner Cable Arena.

McEnroe originally yelled those four words at a chair umpire during a Wimbledon tennis match. Many years later, the phrase became the title of his bestselling autobiography.

Once, he was ridiculed in public for his on-court arguments and fiery persona. Now, at age 55 and quite possibly the best 50-and-over player in the world, McEnroe’s fits are both expected and applauded.

“There have been times when I felt like I was playing pretty good tennis, but it felt like people were just waiting for me to get angry,” McEnroe said during a phone interview. “Which is sort of ironic. That’s why I kid about it. The same thing they wanted to throw me out for and fine me for – now they want me to do it. It’s almost like it pays my check. So it’s sort of bizarre.”

McEnroe will headline the one-night Charlotte tournament. He will play Jimmy Connors in a one-set semifinal. Pat Cash and Ivan Lendl will face off in the other semifinal, with the winners meeting immediately in a one-set final.

Since McEnroe still plays tennis three or four times a week – often at his tennis academy in New York with some of America’s best junior players – he remains in good enough shape to beat the likes of Pete Sampras and Jim Courier on this senior tour. He also has come within a couple of points of beating Andy Roddick and James Blake, both of whom are more than 20 years younger.

“This is a favorable format for old guys,” McEnroe said.

In his second tennis career as the sport’s top TV analyst, McEnroe has become a tennis ambassador. He is not afraid to criticize – much like he used to when a line call went wrong – but also has become an advocate for the sport and its growth.

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