Nike Clash of Champions Eugene Oregon February 8, 2011

I have been lucky enough to have seen professional tennis at Wimbledon (first row center court), the US Open, and Davis Cup in Portland and in Birmingham, the SAP Open and more.

The combination of talent, venue, atmosphere, crowd participation, energy and noise made this the most remarkable tennis experience I have ever had – and I genuinely believe all of the 12,000 attendees (tickets sold out in less than one hour) who packed the Matthew Knight Arena would totally agree.

Incredible.  Unforgettable.  And so much darn fun.  Hats off to Nike (more on that later).

“The Clash of Champions” was at one point a series of professional wrestling television specials aired by World Championship Wrestling.  And true to that format, the players were introduced one at a time, each on descending from the upper reaches of the arena, spotlights focused first on Maria Sharapova, then Vica Azarenko, then Rafael Nadal and finally Roger Federer.  Standing ovations for all.  As they assembled on court for more introductions, who walked in from the corner (just like in wrestling) but none other than John McEnroe.  Unannounced, his entry brought the house down – and or everyone on their feet yet once again.  And as we all expected, there was more to come on this, but no one really knew what or when.

I was fortunate to have a press pass and film from the baseline.  So darn close I was hit by a ball, nothing serious, but the proximity to the players, the camera angle on serve and return, even the chance to watch and listen to their feet – amazing – and I have a lot more footage on that to come.

Thoughts in no particular order:

Vica Azarenko – basic player, no glaring weaknesses, and a bright future.  She played even with Maria until the tiebreaker, which she swept 5-0.

Maria Sharapova – coming back from shoulder surgery, looking good around the court, but her second serve remains a serious liability

Rafael Nadal – strong as a bull, huge whipped forehand winners up the line in singles against Fed, open stance reverse forehands and textbook step in and hit two handed backhands

Roger Federer – he uncoils up and into the serve like a snake with a whipping bite at impact.  Quick as a cat, and on this night he was every bit as playful.And his wide serve to the deuce court appears to be his go to weapon – or at least against Rafa.

The crowd came to its feet in the mixed doubles match, when Federer mimicked the McEnroe serve motion, egged Mac to step on court, to which Mac rose to the occasion to play first a so-so point to Rafa as he looked stiff and was not in any way warmed up.  But then to the deuce court he opened with a bigger serve, a few volleys, then an acrobatic stab volley covering the line against a ferocious Nadal pass, finishing with a pinpoint overhead winner.  You had to see it to believe it.

Finally, during concluding remarks, Phil Knight the founder of Nike was introduced, to a loud chant from the audience of “Uncle Phil.”  His generosity to his alma mater, as well as to Stanford, is legendary.  But equally if not more so, he has held Nike in the forefront as a total supporter of our game of tennis.

Hats of to Nike for this outstanding event

PS – Uncle Phil, I would like to reserve 100 tickets for Clash of the Champions II in 2012.


  • Niall Patrick

    Reply Reply March 22, 2011

    Hi Jim,
    What do you think of Novak’s game lately…18-0 beat Federer and Nadal. I think I should start studying his game.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 22, 2011

      Niall – he has great length, loves to grind, punishes the return, and now serves with confidence – more or less the whole package, still unsure at the net but Rafa and Roger did not expose that

  • Lori

    Reply Reply March 22, 2011

    Please, please somebody with the whole event sell it to Tennis Channel!!!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 22, 2011

      Lori – I suspect this may become a recurring event

  • joneen

    Reply Reply March 14, 2011

    Thanks so much for sharing with us. What fun!!

  • Linda A

    Reply Reply March 14, 2011

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks to your previous email on March 7, announcing your trip to Eugene, OR for this event, I could not let go of how much I wanted to attend this event. All day I was approaching my friends (and people I didn’t know that well) to call in sick to accompany me on this adventure. Luckily late that night, after I had given up finding a cohort, I was talking to a friend whom I was sure could not get away but she jumped at the opportunity. We were able to secure tickets (4th row behind the service line). Worth every penny even at the inflated after market price.

    We left Tuesday am about 10 (my friend had a sales meeting she had to attend) from Spokane, WA for a kamikaze style trip down to Eugene. It’s approximately a 7 1/2 hr drive, plus we had some trouble finding the Arena at first, so we pulled in at 6 pm. We changed in the car and were fretting about how much we had missed, but to our surprise they were just starting the warm up.

    From your report, it sounds like we missed a very special opening and intros and I’m sad about that, but we were so elated to have not missed any of these champions in action on court. We also enjoyed the energy produced by the students for this event plus all the jokes and shenanigans. The arena is a standout facility, the MC was hilarious, the celebrity line judges were a bonus, McEnroe’s appearance and addition to the evening a SUPER bonus. It was a stellar affair I will never forget.

    My friend has been to the US Open and Indian Wells Paribas before but this was my first experience seeing top level pros in person anywhere. I’m quite certain, this may taint any further experiences I may have in the future because it was special in so many ways – how will others even dare compare?

    My sincere thanks for your email mentioning this event!!!

    Linda Allen

  • How much fun was that Mac!

    Thanks for the video.


  • Larry Buhrman

    Reply Reply March 14, 2011

    Hi Jim,

    Congratulations on another great article and video just as excellent and enjoyable as your teaching! I was very impressed with Fed’s performance as an entertainer in this video. His personality matches his tennis-terrific.

    Larry Buhrman

  • Gordon Hodge

    Reply Reply March 14, 2011

    Wow! What a great volley display from a real master. But what struck me during the last point is Federer sitting in the umpire’s chair while McEnroe was playing. The guy is fearless…

    Jim, I’m at Indian Wells this whole week. The energy is amazing. Maybe I’ll run into you. Enjoy…

  • Martin Hassner

    Reply Reply March 14, 2011

    Wonderful stuff. Looking forward to more fun and some teaching tips from it.
    Years ago I ran a voluntary health organization which involved Mats Wilander because one of his sons had a mild form of a genetic disease. Each year they did a golf tournament at the famous Westchester Country Club in Rye, NY and because of Mats had a tennis segment as well on the morning of the day-night event. Mats always asked Mac to come and Mac always did. Former NYC Mayor David Dinkins never missed it.
    Altho he could be a little off-putting and somewhat nasty-childlike, once he had
    a tennis racquet in his hands, Mac always knew who he was and what was expected. Having “fun” or kidding around, Mac is dead serious and always performs up to expectations when he has to – as he clearly did in Oregon.
    Looking forward to more good stuff.

  • martin

    Reply Reply March 14, 2011

    Incredible! As Sudi, we also probably won´t see Rafa or Roger here in Argentina, but it´s amazing to see them outside the tour having so much fun between themselves! Mac…still a genius!!

  • Thanks for allowing us to see this enyoyable moments.

  • sudi

    Reply Reply March 14, 2011

    Fabulous, especially for tennis buffs in India. We never get to see Fed, Rafa live but they do have a huge fan following here. Mac,Connors, Borg also had a large fan following.We hope we can get to see these guys play in India sometime!

  • Joe Meissner

    Reply Reply March 14, 2011

    Its good to see them having real fun.

  • Richard

    Reply Reply March 13, 2011

    Very nice, thank you

  • aly

    Reply Reply March 13, 2011

    terrific!!! thanks

  • Horacio Melo

    Reply Reply March 13, 2011

    Awesome article about the Nike Fest.
    I enjoyed a lot reading this.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 13, 2011

      Horacio – thanks, and I have a lot more features in the pipeline with the footage I shot in Eugene

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