July 20, 2010
The New Tennis Academy in His Name Is Designed to Put New York’s Junior Players Back Among the Nation’s Elite
By ADITI KINKHABWALA for Wall Street Journal
John McEnroe still fidgets.
He crosses and uncrosses his arms, he runs his fingers through that famously curly hair, he shifts in his chair. A guitar rests on a stand by the desk in his small office at the Sportime tennis facility on Randall’s Island, next to an open racket bag and under a picture of Mr. McEnroe and Jack Nicholson.
Mr. McEnroe and Tony Blair, Mr. McEnroe and Bono, a portrait of Mr. McEnroe’s six kids and a shot of Mr. McEnroe on guitar—they’re all hanging on the wall, all a little haphazardly, almost as if that wild intensity has forced the frames to fidget too.
Except for one. It’s a cover of a 1977 Tennis magazine, with a Mr. McEnroe who looks remarkably like the one across the desk —save for perhaps a bit more hair—and a caption that reads, “Leader of the Junior Uprising.” On this day, that one’s perfectly straight. And right at eye level. Almost as if to say there will be nothing slapdash in this second junior uprising Mr. McEnroe is bent on leading.
The stab at rock stardom, the attempt at talk-show hosting, the game show his brother Mark unapologetically called “dopey,” all those dabbles are in the past. New York’s all-time greatest tennis player is home and committed to New York, certain there are burgeoning all-time tennis greats running around the same neighborhoods he once roamed—and that he’s the one to mold them.
The John McEnroe Tennis Academy officially opens right after the U.S. Open. But the seven-time Grand Slam-winner has been a presence here at this $19 million tennis center on the island off Manhattan’s 125th Street since December. He’s hired a director of tennis, he’s assembled a staff of coaches, he’s debated the merits of coach-to-player ratios and he’s worked with kids. Lots of them, in a very real, very patient way.
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