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
”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
– 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