Tennis his way: John McEnroe starts academy

John McEnroe wants a hand in reviving American tennis. He wants

to do it his way.

Neither of these statements should come as a surprise to anyone

who has followed McEnroe’s career over the last four decades –

either on the court or in ”retirement,” where he has remained

every bit as fiery and unapologetic behind a microphone as he is

with a tennis racquet in hand.

The day after the U.S. Open ends, McEnroe’s new journey will

begin in full – a journey with the ultimate goal of making sure the

headline that appeared this year is never seen again: ”No American

in top 10 for first time since rankings began in 1973.”

On Sept. 13, the John McEnroe Tennis Academy will officially

welcome its first class at the revamped, 20-court, $18-million

tennis complex on Randall’s Island – a strip of land between

Manhattan and Queens that also houses Icahn Stadium, where Usain

Bolt set his first world record.

It’s not particularly easy to get to. Then again, almost

anything worth doing in New York – McEnroe’s hometown and the

center of the tennis universe during the U.S. Open – involves some

sacrifice. And besides, nothing about Johnny Mac’s journey back

into the languishing grass roots of his sport has been simple.

”Hopefully, I can jolt things and get things going here

again,” McEnroe said of his goal to revive tennis in New York and,

by extension, in the United States. ”Hopefully I can be a regular

presence and hopefully Patrick and the USTA will support what I’m

doing.”

”Patrick” would be his youngest brother, the longtime Davis

Cup captain who the U.S. Tennis Association hired two years ago to

run an elite player development program that gets mixed reviews

from tennis insiders. The McEnroes have similar goals, but

different ideas of how to get there.

While Patrick McEnroe and the USTA enjoy the luxury of what his

brother calls ”unlimited money” – about $15 million a year for

the development program – money that is sometimes used to filch

players from the for-profit tennis academies, John McEnroe is

starting from scratch. He’s hoping to revive the youth tennis scene

in New York and prove that, yes, it’s still possible to build

champions without sending them away to tennis camp and taking them

out of their normal lives.

For a tennis prodigy, McEnroe enjoyed a relatively normal

childhood. He grew up in the suburbs of New York, was schooled at

Trinity on the Upper West Side, took tennis lessons at Port

Washington Tennis Academy on Long Island under coach Harry Hopman –

who never made tennis larger than life – then spent a year at

Stanford University before going pro full-time.

Now, he is putting his own time, his own money and bringing in

the middle McEnroe brother – Mark, the lawyer – to an effort he

hopes will produce plenty of college players, a handful of pros and

maybe, just maybe, the next American tennis champion.

”That’s our bet,” Mark McEnroe said. ”John thinks it’s

realistic that we can find a top-10 player.”

The odd relationship between John and Patrick has been

described, in some parts of the tennis world, as a rift. The

brothers, seven years apart, say family is more important than

tennis, but are on record as not always seeing eye to eye.

And indeed, there are differences. Most notably:

– John thinks it’s possible to become a great tennis player the

way he did it back in the day – by making the sport part of a

typical American childhood that includes living at home, going to a

school nearby, a few football games and friends. Patrick believes

in more repetition and full-time commitment, the likes of which you

see at the many academies-slash-boarding schools in Florida, Texas

and California.

– John has a long, well-known history of wanting to team up with

the USTA to put his name behind a development program. Patrick has

questions about how long John could stick with the bureaucracy that

comes with the USTA.

”There’s probably some skepticism on Patrick’s part, as we all

have, is John really going to do this?” Mark McEnroe said. ”John

wanted to do something like he’s doing here at the USTA and that

wasn’t available.”