The U.S. Open is set to take the borough of Queens by storm later this month, and New York City will become the center of the tennis universe. Just to the north of Arthur Ashe Stadium and the glitz and glamour of the world’s biggest tennis tournament, the sport is thriving in a different way at an academy where inter-city youth dream of becoming the next big thing in a sport that can last a lifetime.
Locally, just two days before the U.S. Open begins a hundred miles to the west, stars like John and Patrick McEnroe and Kim Clijsters will be at Sportime in Amagansett for the fifth annual Johnny Mac Tennis Project’s Pro-Am in the Hamptons, on Saturday, August 24. The event is a benefit for John McEnroe’s nonprofit Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP), which seeks to change young lives by removing the economic and social barriers to success through tennis.
“At our event, you’ll see some of the kids from our New York City program hitting around with legends of the game,” John McEnroe said in an interview this week. “That’s one of our core messages, that tennis is fun at any age. We’re committed to helping our young players grow as tennis players and as individuals, and we also want to bring the buzz back and grow the sport.”
The day will include a legends exhibition and doubles play, in which participants will compete in a round-robin tournament alongside former tour professionals, current and former Division I college players and top John McEnroe Tennis Academy pros. The timing of the event, with the start of the Open two days later, works out perfectly in terms of star power, according to John McEnroe, himself one of the biggest starts the game has ever known.
“Well it’s really the perfect place,” he said. “You have so many tennis pros coming into town for the Open, and people who care about making it more affordable for kids to play the game. And, of course, you have a lot of tennis players and aficionados out here on the East End with a passion for tennis.”
The JMTP includes a number of charitable programs within it, such as free community tennis programs, a pathway to college scholarships and advanced training. The programs are mainly focused on the Harlem and Bronx neighborhoods that surround the Sportime facility on Randall’s Island, where tennis instruction is offered for 12 schools and roughly 400 children every week.
“A few of these young athletes are now part of the JMTA program and having a lot of success,” John McEnroe said. “It really proves that tennis is a lifelong sport.”