12-Year-Old Girl May Embody McEnroe’s Vision
By HARVEY ARATON
Published: March 7, 2011
For John McEnroe, a man of impassioned and instantly expressed emotions, hitting with Ingrid Neel was almost a case of love at first tennis stroke.
To introduce herself, Ingrid drew him to the net with a deft drop volley. Then she dared to lob the great Johnny Mac, lofting the ball inches from the baseline.
O.K., McEnroe thought, so this is how you want to play with a four-time United States Open and three-time Wimbledon champion? He retaliated with a drop-shot winner of his own, stepped toward the net, pointed a finger at his audacious new adversary and gave her a look that said, “You cannot be serious!
But McEnroe could plainly see that, yes, absolutely she was.
“The way she played, the look in her eye, made me think that maybe it was the 2011 version of what I would look like now, only a girl,” he said.
A 12-year-old girl with freckled cheeks, standing short of 5 feet and weighing less than 100 pounds. But McEnroe, now 52 and in the business of discovering and developing future American stars, was smitten.
“I said, ‘O.K., that girl is the real deal, someone I would like to work with,’ ” he said.
This was last October, and McEnroe was getting ahead of himself. Ingrid had come from Rochester, Minn., to his academy at the Sportime club on Randalls Island, which was created last year with the goal of developing tennis players in his unorthodox image
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