Lenny Megliola: McEnroe still brings The Show

Lenny Megliola

John McEnroe is steaming toward his 50th birthday. Make you feel old?

McEnroe, the winner of seven Grand Slams and three Wimbledons, a hall of famer and a love him/hate him persona in his prime, is still at it. He’s playing the Champions (read: seniors) Tour, which has a Boston stopover next week.

“I work out regularly,” McEnroe says. “Three days a week I’m in the gym, three days I’m on the court. My flexibility, for my age, is pretty good.”

His combustibility is still intact, too. McEnroe at middle-age arguing a call or getting mad at himself still engages the crowds. He knows the fans expect it, even now. He won’t disappoint them. McEnroe still wears his showmanship on his sleeve. But it’s more in fun these days.

Pete Sampras, not that far removed from being the top-ranked player in the world on the regular tour, has hopped on board the Champions Tour and will face McEnroe next week. Sampras is 13 years younger.

Can Johnny Mac beat the guy? “If I told you that my nose would start to grow. I played Pete last year. He aced me three times. I didn’t touch the ball once. Game over.”

The Champions Tour is a five-day grind. Stretching for some of the shots takes its toll on a 49-year-old.

“The problem is bouncing back day after day,” says McEnroe. “We’re trying to take this seriously, show the fans we can still play. The players are in real good shape.”

It was suggested that a McEnroe-Serena Williams match would fill Madison Square Garden. Who’d win?

“I like my chances, although she’d probably try to wait me out until I was in a wheelchair,” McEnroe says. “Women’s tennis has advanced considerably. They hit the ball harder than ever.”

His temperament notwithstanding, there was always a patriotic side to McEnroe. While some superstars showed little or no interest in playing for the U.S. in Davis Cup competition, McEnroe embraced it and played for 14 years. It’s true that the Davis Cup is only followed by deep-rooted tennis diehards. But when McEnroe played it sparked interest.

In 1982, in one of the greatest Davis Cup matches ever -- heck, one of the greatest anywhere, any time -- McEnroe defeated Swede Mats Wilander 9-7, 6-2, 15-17, 3-6, 8-6. It took six hours and 22 minutes to finish. And you thought Red Sox-Yankees games were long.

McEnroe was an amazing doubles player, winning 57 titles. His partner was Peter Fleming, who famously said, “the best doubles partnership in the world is John McEnroe and anybody else.”

McEnroe also won nine Grand Slams in mixed doubles. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.

If his career was colorful and often dominated the back pages of the New York dailies, his personal life was sometimes also the stuff of tabloids. He married actress Tatum O’Neal in 1986. He put tennis on the backburner for a while before returning in top form, winning three titles. But in 1987 he didn’t win a tournament for the first time in his career. He and O’Neal divorced in 1992. They had three children. McEnroe married signer Pati Smyth in 1997. They had two children. She had one from a previous marriage to rocker Richard Hell.

McEnroe has had success as a TV tennis commentator, but his own talk show failed miserably, lasting just a few months.

He is debating how much longer he can play competitive tennis. “I’ll re-evaluate after this year.” You hope he stays with it. He’s still The Show.

“When I first came to the sport I thought, wow, these guys have personalities. Seems like some of the fun has been taken away,” McEnroe says.

Not when he’s on the court.

Lenny Megliola is a Daily News columnist. His e-mail is