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.