Experiences of a lifetime at Legends tennis

American Claire Liu serves at the 2018 Legends at Camana Bay tennis event.

Hundreds of fans flocked to see Grand Slam tennis champions and a rising star put on a show on the hardcourt for Legends at Camana Bay last Friday night (9 February).

On hand in the Cayman Islands were former world number ones Jimmy Connors and Stefan Edberg, 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, current US Open women’s champion Sloane Stephens, and rising star Clair Liu, who won the Wimbledon junior title last year.

After local juniors put on a show for the crowd with two singles matches – Lauren Fullerton vs Willow Wilkinson; and Jake Booker vs Oskar Bjuro – it was time for the visiting stars to take the court.

Connors and Stephens, who have 11 Grand Slam titles (singles and doubles) between them, faced Cash and Liu for an entertaining mixed doubles affair. Among the highlights, including many entertaining rallies, was Connors summoning ball girl Caroline Duggan to take his place after missing an easy shot.

Connors, who was quite the showman during his heyday, was enjoyed playing it up for the crowd. “How could you beat that? To play with Pat Cash, Sloane and Claire here in the Caymans for my first time?”

The former world number one loved being on islands, and not just for the tennis. “The first thing I did was went outside and looked around a bit, called home and said our next trip is coming to the Caymans,” the 65-year-old American said.

Connors and Stephens won 7-6 after a tie-break. Cash, a two-time Davis Cup winner, also enjoyed putting on a show in the mixed doubles before a singles exhibition with Stefan Edberg, which he also lost (8-5).

“Jimmy Connors was one of my heroes growing up. I’ve always wanted to play like Jimmy…it was just great to be out here on the court with him,” the 52-year Australian said. “It was [also] great being out here on the court with the girls. Sloane being the champion that she is and Claire, she’s got a great future. It was a lot of fun.”

For Liu, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Oh my gosh! It was amazing,” she said. “Being on the same court with Grand Slam champions…I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to do that again. It was so amazing.”

She then faced 12th-ranked Stephens in singles, losing 8-3, including one game where two ball kids played almost every point as replacements. “Hopefully, I could be good enough to play her but being on the court with her is so amazing and you get to learn so much,” said the 17-year-old, who’s transitioned from juniors to the professional ranks.

Stefan Edberg

As part of a raffle to raise funds for Special Olympics Cayman Islands, Jake Fagan, the top-ranked 10 & under player in last year’s PwC Junior Tennis Circuit, got a chance to return a serve from Cash, although the former pro was unaware that he was serving to one of the islands’ most promising players.

“I hit a nice serve down to the young fella and he hit it back with ease. He’s obviously played a little bit but I didn’t know that and he smacked the serve back no problems,” Cash said.

Fagan said it was a “really fun” experience to get on the court with the Australian star. He had the support of Connors, who stood by looking on. Afterward, Cash gave him one of his signature headbands.

Jake Fagan gets a headband from Pat Cash after returning his serve.

Cash summed up the atmosphere of the evening. “The crowd’s enthusiastic. It’s what you expect in the Caribbean, people having fun. We had a great time.”

In the earlier junior matches Lauren Fullerton def. Willow Wilkinson 6-2, and Oskar Bjuro def. Jake Booker 6-2.

 

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