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McEnroe, other stars please Arena crowd with tennis exhibition

DULUTH - It was difficult to tell which John McEnroe and Jim Courier played better - their shots or the crowd.

They hammed it up Saturday night in their best-of-three set exhibition, the opening match of the Mercedes-Benz Classic.

The nearly 4,500 fans on hand for this first tennis event in the Arena at Gwinnett Center marveled at McEnroe's precision and gaped at Courier's athleticism.

But fans also got into the act - and egged it on.

"You can't be serious!" one man yelled from the back rows after a shot looked long, alluding to one of McEnroe's famous outbursts from the past.

Now 47, McEnroe embraced his former image.

He yelled at the umpire. Twice, after making unforced errors, he whacked a tennis ball nearly into the upper deck of the 13,000-seat arena. He also slammed his racket into the ground.

Aside from a few terrified ball girls, everyone loved it.

McEnroe still impresses fans with his graceful play and sharply angled shots, but many like longtime fan Joan Hicks want to see the temper.

"It's the reason I came," she said. "And the angles, too."

Courier also put on a show.

After Arena officials asked the crowd not to take pictures during the match, Courier said, "unless they're of me," drawing whistles from female fans as he hiked up his shorts.

The exhibition also featured a mixed doubles match with Courier, McEnroe, Jana Novotna and Anna Kournikova - probably the star of the show, at least for the men in the crowd.

"He's here for Anna," Lawrenceville resident Gayle Hamer said of her husband, B.C., who denied the accusation.

The Hamers, who came with a large tennis-playing contingent from the Collins Hill Athletic Club, were typical of many in the crowd. The exhibition tapped into the popularity of amateur tennis in metro Atlanta - one of the reasons Courier wanted to play the exhibition here.

About 80,000 compete in Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association leagues and another 20,000 are United States Tennis Association members.