Some guys of my generation dreamed of marrying actress Bo Derek or forming a famous rock band. Not me. As a high school tennis coach and passionate club player during tennis legend John McEnroe’s glory days, I often mused over what it must be like to play on the same court with someone of his renowned stature.
Academy student and his father, Louis, join us to talk tennis
As a first grader at Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem, Dylan Ortiz picked up a racket for the first time as part of his school’s weekly tennis PE class at Sportime Randall’s Island. After two years, Dylan’s athleticism, work-ethic, and natural aptitude led him to Sportime’s Excellence Scholarship Program. Providing intensive instruction to early-stage players, the Excellence Program builds on fundamentals to prepare students for more advanced training.
Tennis stars John McEnroe & Patrick McEnroe hosted young tennis players at scholarship tryout in Harlem
Johnny Mac Tennis Project held tryout for fall scholarships to John McEnroe Tennis Academy at SPORTIME Randall’s Island; Last year’s scholarship winner, 10-year-old Joshua Bey, cheered on this year’s hopefuls
HARLEM, NYC—Friday, August 24, 2018—
John McEnroe, SPORTIME, and the Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP) hosted a tryout Thursday morning for children ages 6 to 14 interested in attending the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA) training program at the SPORTIME Randall’s Island tennis center.
The tryout took place at Harlem’s Frederick Johnson Playground Tennis Courts at Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Boulevard @ West 150th Street, home to its own popular summer recreational tennis programs. Watching and cheering on the young players was ten-year-old Joshua Bey, who won a scholarship to JMTA at last year’s tryout. Joshua’s family lives within blocks of the park, and his mother and father, who came out for today’s event, spoke highly of their son’s experience at JMTA this past year.
Youngsters from SPORTIME Randall’s Island’s neighboring communities, including East Harlem and the South Bronx, were encouraged to attend and many turned out to display their tennis and athletic prowess. Players participated in tennis and athletic drills and games designed by SPORTIME/JMTA coaches to assess capacities such as speed, strength, agility and hand-eye coordination.
“My brother and I are NYC natives," said Patrick McEnroe, "To be able to expose young people in our City to this great sport, and to give them a chance to use tennis as a vehicle to improve their lives, is a true privilege."
JMTA Co-Tennis Director Lawrence Kleger said, “We want to engage young, athletic, talented children and introduce them to the world of tennis with the intention of fostering long-term participation. We want to reward these kids’ hard work while nurturing their talent. These scholarships serve as a reminder for the kids that the JMTP and JMTA are as committed to them as they are to the sport of tennis.”
Mike Jacobs, co-director of Fredrick Johnson Playground’s popular free summer community tennis program affiliated with Columbia University,
said, “Tennis gives the kids motivation and focus, and it teaches them to think analytically, and sharpens decision making skills. It prepares them well for life. We love working with SPORTIME and the Johnny Mac Tennis Project, which is giving the really talented kids a great option.”
Also present this morning was local NY State Assemblyman Al Taylor, who praised the local tennis program and SPORTIME and JMTP’s support of tennis at the community level.
JMTA coaches evaluated participants with an eye toward tennis skill level, athleticism and enthusiasm for the sport. A JMTP scholarship to attend JMTA, which will be awarded once coaches have compared data gathered at the tryout, will cover group sessions, individual instruction, training camps, integral performance training and mental toughness workshops, as well as convenient transportation to SPORTIME Randall's Island.
Since JMTP’s founding in 2012, over 5,000 East Harlem and South Bronx youth living in the communities adjacent to Randall's Island have enjoyed the sport of tennis through free, school-based, programs offered at the SPORTIME/JMTA facility. In addition, JMTP and SPORTIME have awarded over 250 scholarships to children who live in those communities, many of whom were introduced to the sport through JMTP programming, as well as to others throughout the city.
A non-profit based at SPORTIME Randall’s Island, JMTP was created to remove social and economic barriers to tennis participation for NYC kids, and to bridge the gap between introductory community-based programs and advanced tennis training for talented and committed players. JMTP provides a pathway to success through tennis, often leading to college scholarships, careers in the industry and, for a few, professional tennis careers.
The program is supported by donations, as well as by events like this coming weekend's Johnny Mac Tennis Project Pro-Am at SPORTIME Amagansett. On Saturday, August 25th, John and Patrick McEnroe will be joined by all-time greats Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and other former pros including Andrea Jaeger and Ashley Harkleroad, at the nonprofit's fourth annual fundraising event at SPORTIME Amagansett, at 320 Abrahams Path, Town of East Hampton.
1. John McEnroe and Academy coaches watch young contender at John McEnroe Tennis Academy 2018 Harlem tennis scholarship tryouts
2. Khallid Bey (Harlem resident and father of ten-year-old 2017 John McEnroe Tennis Academy scholarship winner Joshua Bey), John McEnroe, Joshua Bey, Patrick McEnroe and Harlem NY State Assembly Member Al Taylor at JMTA 2018 scholarship tryouts
3. Young player celebrates a great shot with Patrick McEnroe
4. Young player vies for John McEnroe Tennis Academy Scholarship at Harlem’s Fredrick Johnson Playground courts
5. John McEnroe and young players in Harlem for John McEnroe Tennis Academy scholarship tryouts
6. 2017 John McEnroe Tennis Academy scholarship winner -- and current McEnroe Academy player – Josh Bey, with parents Khallid and Tamika Bey, and former tennis instructors Reggie Satterfield [black shirt] and Mike Jacobs [yellow shirt].
7. Patrick McEnroe and young player meet on the court after a completed drill
8. Young tennis players confer over the net at tryout for John McEnroe Tennis Academy in Harlem’s Fredrick Johnson Park
9. John McEnroe Tennis Academy tennis balls ready for use at 2018 JMTA scholarship tryouts in Harlem
Fundraiser benefits Johnny Mac Tennis Project
You CAN Be Serious!
The Johnny Mac Tennis Project’s 4th Annual Hampton’s Pro-Am, one of the world’s largest Pro-Am tennis events, is bringing 64 pros and 64 amateurs to Sportime in Amagansett on Saturday, August 25. John and Patrick McEnroe will play with other tennis greats including Mats Wilander and Lindsay Davenport. A silent auction and after party at a private residence will round out the day.
We recently talked with John about The Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP), his mentors, US Open picks, and, of course, underwear.
What does JMTP do exactly?
We introduce tennis to thousands of young kids in New York City—mostly in East Harlem and the South Bronx. Ideally some of them will use the tennis skills they get from Johnny Mac to get college scholarships. We’d also love to help create the next American tennis superstar.
Gifted young athletes today tend to be lured to the high paying, “glamorous” sports like football, baseball, and basketball. How can you get kids onto the tennis courts and bring the buzz back to American tennis?
That’s the million-dollar question! Tennis is just too expensive. We’re trying to bring more awareness to the issue and raise money so we can get more kids who can’t afford to play on the courts.
How do you do that?
The answer is threefold. 1) Make tennis more affordable (which is easier said than done) by providing more scholarships like we have at JMTP. 2) Work with schools to get more funding not just for tennis, but for all sports. So many programs, like arts and athletics, are being cut. That has to change. 3) We have to bring the cool factor back to tennis. What Tiger did for golf, we need to do for tennis. You see the World Cup is so big and they can fit 20 kids on a field where we can only put two or four. We’ve got to get out there and pound the pavement to bring some life back into tennis in this country.
Two of your mentors were Harry Hopman and Gene Scott. And you were a huge Rod Laver fan. Is there anyone out there now that you’d encourage kids to look up to?
Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal. Forget that they are arguably the two greatest players, along with my idol Rod Laver, in the history of the game. They’re class acts. They have that combo of humility and cockiness you need in order to succeed in a sport or maybe at anything in life.
And for the women, you look at Serena and Venus. They’re the most unusual story in the last 100 years of tennis. That they’ve been able to have that level of success, considering where they came from, and remain that close is amazing. Serena is the greatest female player ever and Venus is not far behind. Now who gets to be as great as they are? Obviously, no one. But you shoot for the stars and settle for the moon. No matter who your mentors are though, the most important ingredient in being a successful tennis player is consistently being able to go out and give your best.
You’re very involved in hiring the coaches at JMTP, what do you look for?
I want the coaching staff to be as diversified as possible. I like to have people with their own thoughts and strong ideas. I want a combination of people who are eager, energetic, have a passion for teaching kids, and, of course, people who love this sport. I want career pros, but also some guys just out of college so the kids can have someone to bounce ideas off about things like which schools they should consider.
You’ve talked about being a tennis commissioner; do you still want to do that?
I think tennis—the way it’s set up right now, it would be extremely important to have a commission that could oversee and make decisions for the sport as a whole.
Would I be interested? Yeah! I want to make this sport bigger and better than it’s been over the past 20 years. I don’t want tennis to become a niche sport.
US Open predictions this year?
With what Federer and Nadal have done in the past 18 months, and Djokovic winning Wimbledon, it’s highly improbable that one of these three won’t win it. And for the women: Serena is the X factor. She made this great return after giving birth and it seemed like she was going to steamroll through (all the tournaments). She’s so strong mentally. If she’s on her game, it’s hard to believe she could lose.
Are there any American up-and-comers we should look out for?
Frances Tiafoe. He’s only 20 and I think he’ll be in the top ten at this year’s Open. He has developed nicely in the last couple of years and if he continues at that level, he’ll go far. I also am excited about Taylor Fritz, Jared Donaldson, and Riley Opelka-he’s a seven footer!
There’s gonna be a breakthrough soon. These all time greats like Nadal and Federer are human… I think. So at some phase they’re going to go away. I mean, Federer is 37! That’s like 55 in tennis years! What he’s doing, though, is incredible!
Who is your dream mixed-doubles partner?
I played with Steffi once and that was amazing. She’s an all time great! I love Kim Clijster too. But, if I had to pick one, it’d be Serena. She’d make life on the court a whole lot easier for me.
Any guys you wish you had played doubles with?
It’d be nice to play with Federer. And when Rafael was 19 or 20, he wanted to play doubles with me at the US Open but I thought that he was too young. Well, now look at how much of a fool I was! That would’ve been awesome. To play with them now would be so exciting because of the intensity they’d feel, the pressure to carry this old man.
You’re not that old.
Big six-0. Big six-0 is coming up in February. That hurts.
Will you be playing in this year’s Pro-Am?
Yes, I’ll be playing-but probably not that well. I’m old!
Are you going to see Patti play at Stephen Talkhouse the night before the Pro-Am kicks off?
Unfortunately, I’m going to get in town too late. I did see Patti play out west recently. It’s amazing how she can still hit the notes the way she did in “The Warrior”and “Goodbye To You.” I wish I could still serve the way she can still hit those notes.
You love Bjorn Borg’s undies and had talked about creating a line of your own. Is that in the works?
(laughs) That’s looking like a very slim prospect. The name John McEnroe is just not synonymous with underwear. I did think it was a brilliant idea. So, I took it to Nike and said, “This could be huge!!” They’ve always been good to me. I’ve been under contract for 40 years. Even when people were saying McEnroe should be suspended, Phil Knight would call and say, “You just keep going out there and doing what you do.” But, about the decision not to do the underwear-well, everyone makes mistakes.
I guess I’ll just have to keep wearing Bjorn’s underwear.
The JMTP Pro-Am tennis tournament will take place from 2:30 to 6:30 at SPORTIME Amagansett, located at 320 Abrahams Path. The event’s afterparty and auction, to be held at a private residence, starts at 8. For more information about The Johnny Mac Tennis Project and Annual Pro-Am in the Hamptons, visit www.jmtpny.org.
Read the article by Avenue, here.
Young athletes from the John McEnroe Tennis Academy talk practice schedules, warm-up routines and more.
Ariel Blanke, 16