John McEnroe is back.
This afternoon, 39 days after he left Wimbledon a beaten, tired and confused tennis player, he put on a display of scintillating, McEnroe-like play and left this mountain resort with a smile.
He also left with the $40,000 first prize in the Volvo International Tennis Tournament after beating Ivan Lendl, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, in a match interrupted for 85 minutes by a gentle summer shower.
Neither rain, nor wind, nor Lendl was likely to stop McEnroe today. All of McEnroe's old weapons were back: the big serve when he needed it; the whippet volleys; the jumped-on service returns. Just as important, he looked eager and intense.
To call this a comeback might sound foolish since, as McEnroe pointed out, he never so much as lost his No. 1 world ranking. But he had not been himself recently and had expressed concern, especially after his stunning quarterfinal loss to Kevin Curren at Wimbledon.
At the very least, he was refreshed and recharged today. With the U.S. Open 16 days away, that is good news for McEnroe.
"I felt good today, better than I've felt in a long time," he said. "I wanted to come here and get back on the right track and try to get rolling again, and I think I did that. It's hard for people to understand, but I was almost embarrassed by the way I'd been playing the last couple of months.
"That's why this match was important to me. He had beaten me the last two times we played (on clay) and I didn't want to get into a rut, losing three in a row since our history has been so streaky. To play like this against him is really satisfying."
From the beginning today, McEnroe's sense of purpose was apparent. In the second game, he broke serve, even though Lendl put five of six first serves into play. It was vintage McEnroe: put the ball in play; take the ball on the rise; and attack, attack, attack.
"That's the way he always plays me when he is feeling confident," Lendl said. "I always know on this surface (hard court, same as at the U.S. Open) that I need to serve well to win. Actually, I served pretty well and played pretty well. He was just better today."
Perhaps that was what was most impressive about this victory for McEnroe. Lendl said he played better today than in his three-set semifinal victory Saturday over Jimmy Connors.
After the rain delay, which came with McEnroe leading, 3-1, 40-0, Lendl dodged two break points while serving at 1-4, then broke his opponent with four convincing winners in a glorious game.
That didn't please McEnroe. In the next game, when Lendl argued a let call and contended his opponent was being "given" calls, McEnroe angrily retorted, "Come on. If I got half as many calls as you say I get, I'd have never have lost a match to you."
"Mind your own business," Lendl yelled back.
The exchange stirred the sellout crowd of 10,000 and, briefly, turned it toward Lendl. "People just don't understand," McEnroe said. "He argues a line call and people think he's somehow standing up to me, that I'm somehow involved in his argument, which I'm not."
Let or no let, Lendl held at 15 for 4-all and hit a forehand winner on the first point of the next game. McEnroe took a deep breath and served an ace. That seemed to get him back on keel and he held at 15. From there, they proceeded to the tie breaker.
Once there, Lendl simply didn't have enough weapons -- at least not on this day -- for McEnroe. Three times, he missed returns of second serves. McEnroe got to 5-1 with a delicate backhand drop volley.
Then, with Lendl serving at 4-6, McEnroe barely returned a big first serve. Lendl hit a hard forehand and came in -- one of seven times he came to net in the match -- and angled a forehand volley. McEnroe got to it and snapped a backhand past Lendl's lunge for the set. Now, the crowd was back with McEnroe, who was shaking his fist a la Connors.
"I thought getting a couple of easy points on my serve in the tie breaker was probably the difference," McEnroe said. "I was a little bit uptight because I'd had a match point in a tie breaker against him in Dusseldorf in May and lost the match. I wanted to make sure that didn't happen again."
He immediately broke serve in the opening game of the second set when Lendl double-faulted on break point and went up, 3-0, when Lendl again double-faulted.
Even though he got 69 percent of his first serves in, Lendl simply could not handle a pumped-up, in-the-groove McEnroe, who served 60 percent, a good deal better than in most of his matches in Europe this summer.
"My serve feels a lot better and I don't know exactly why," McEnroe said. "I feel like my game is getting back to where I want it now. I feel better physically and mentally. Today, I felt comfortable on the court. It's been a while since I felt that good out there."
It's been a while since he looked that good out there.
"I still have a lot to work on," he said. "But at least now I know I'm going in the right direction."