Long before John McEnroe created magic and madness on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, he conjured shock and awe playing small ball on New York City’s famed lawn.
A four-year-old McEnroe was so skilled whacking whiffle balls pitched by his father on Central Park’s great lawn, impressed New Yorkers not only stopped to watch—some assumed he must be a midget or a circus performer because surely no normal child had such acute eye-hand coordination.
The former world number one opened a tennis academy in 2010, at the intersection of several New York neighborhoods. And his approach is fairly unique, naturally.
John McEnroe discovered Randall’s Island in the 1970s. It came as a shock for this kid from an upmarket neighbourhood of Queens, whose Manhattan Classification: Internal private school used sports fields on the island, wedged between Harlem River to the west, East River to the east and the Bronx just to the north. “It was a bit of a slum at the time. It was old, in a sorry state,” he says, frowning at the memory of the run-down tennis centre. He didn’t play there much, preferring his parents’ private club nearby, and instead remembers frenetic football matches on local pitches, set against a backdrop of factory chimneys and railway lines, or highways leading to bridges, including Hell Gate Bridge... just along the river from the red light districts, especially at that time. But when the opportunity came along to build his academy there, the tireless champion of a different form of tennis training jumped at the chance.