Six-year-old Noah Eisenberg works on his backhand under the tutelage of John McEnroe at the Sportime facility on Randalls Island.
I remember reading a couple of years ago that John McEnroe had proposed setting up an academy of sorts at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in the NYC borough of Queens. I figured it was a done deal but I kind of forgot about it.
Meanwhile the USTA revamped it's High Performance program installing Patrick McEnroe as the head and charging him with turning the fortunes of United States tennis around. He was given authority to hire men and women he felt would be able to train promising up and comers to play modern tennis as opposed to having the tactics of yesteryear drummed into them.
It wasn't until I read an article last weekend in the New York Times that I realized John had not given up his dream of a JMac academy and that in fact he was setting one up on the newly revamped facilities at Randalls Island located in New York City's East River.
“I don’t think you have to give up everything, play six hours a day, to be successful,” McEnroe said. “When I was 12, 13, I was playing soccer and basketball and whatever I did to keep myself sane — some people may argue that point — and from not walking away from the game because I had outlets.”
The next figurative ball for McEnroe to strike in his 51-year-old life of playing the angles is scheduled for Thursday, when he plans to announce the September start of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at the 20-court Sportime facility on Randalls Island. McEnroe intends to model the enterprise on the Port Washington, N.Y., club he grew up in — having the gifted and daring play a few sessions a week while attending school independently, living a life.
He hopes to widen the search for the next great player from New York to less traditional tennis-playing communities like East Harlem and the Bronx, perhaps with the help of corporate scholarships. But he won’t object if his cultural alternative to the generic Florida tennis factory appeals to the families of prodigies from Seattle to Serbia.
“People feel, put the kids in the middle of nowhere, isolate them, so all they can do is live and breathe tennis,” he said. “Me, I went to Florida with Harry Hopman, at 15 or 16, for one day and said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ Never would I have made it if I had to do that. It would have been a form of torture. I mean, some people will say, There’s too much going on in New York. But I feel that with the natural energy here, you can feed off that.”
Before hiring a coaching staff, it tabbed McEnroe’s brother, Mark, a corporate lawyer, to manage the Randalls Island operation.
The article continues.
According to John, he had long badgered the association to create a program with him at its National Tennis Center. He figured it a logical extension of his legacy: he was a ball boy at the United States Open when it was played in Forest Hills, then a four-time champion and in recent years its network voice.
Alternately encouraged and stonewalled, he became hopeful when Patrick was hired to fix a clogged developmental pipeline in the flagging search for the next great Americans.
“He gave me this, ‘Well, we don’t have a lot of money, so we’ve got to start with two courts and a couple of hours,’ ” John said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ How much does the U.S.T.A. make from the Open? You’re going to sit there and tell me they don’t have the money to spend on a program if they want to?
“I mean, how many tens of millions — hundreds of millions — have they put out on other programs? What has that gotten them? If this had been a complete and dismal failure, it would have been just like 100 other things.”
Patrick McEnroe said John’s vision of the academy did not quite mesh with the U.S.T.A. mission. “As I told John, I’d love to have him associated with the program,” Patrick said. “But he always felt that he wanted something that was his. It was hard to make the argument that you’re going to have a U.S.T.A. program named after a player — any player.”
Asked if his brother’s academy would be a direct competitor to the national association, Patrick McEnroe said: “It’s a totally different situation, in a sense that the kids who come to our programs don’t pay a dime. The others have different models, a business model. In John’s situation, he’d like to get some kids who can be great players, but he’ll have to straddle that line between development and making money.”
The USTA had designated many facilities around the country as part of it's Elite program. I don't have a clue about the politics, or the family dynamics behind this. It's going to be interesting to see just who "wins" this little battle. Keep in mind that Pater McEnroe put his hat in the ring to run the ATP last year. We should also not forget that the Sanchez-Casal Academy has opened a branch in Naples, Florida.
Results should take a few years. We'll just have to wait and see.