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By Richard Pagliaro

(May 20, 2010) Avid art collector John McEnroe is aiming to create an American tennis renaissance and his hometown of New York City will serve as his canvas.

Shortly after the US Open ends, McEnroe's grand plan comes to life.

The Hall of Famer and life-long New Yorker announced he will open and direct the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, with its inaugural, full-year programs starting just after the 2010 US Open.

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The John McEnroe Academy will be housed at the new $18 Million Sportime at Randall’s Island Tennis Center in New York City. Sportime, owner of 13 tennis and fitness clubs throughout New York State, will operate the club and will partner with McEnroe in the operation of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy.

“For many years the United States has struggled to develop its next class of elite players. I believe that I can inspire young players the way that my coaches inspired me. And I plan to create a system, like the one that I learned in, that supports building an all-around person, as opposed to a tennis machine," McEnroe said. "My academy, based here in the world’s greatest city, will provide a balance of world-class tennis and fitness training, along with a New York experience, so maybe our kids will be a little more creative, a little more intense, and will be able to think on their feet a little better, like any New Yorker. Over time and with my guidance and that of our hand-picked coaches and pros, I think our students will see great success."

The announcement is the culmination of McEnroe’s longstanding goal to develop and oversee an academy that will embrace many of the best elements of McEnroe’s own childhood experience, updated for the modern game and based on McEnroe’s unique perspective.

McEnroe lobbied the USTA for years to open a John McEnroe Tennis Academy at the National Tennis Center, a location McEnroe once asserted was "wasted" because the White Plains, N.Y.-based Tennis Association did not use it for elite player development in the past. 

When Arlen Kantarian was USTA Chief Executive Professional Tennis, it was believed Kantarian backed the idea though some insiders said other execs within the USTA were wary of working with the sometime temperamental McEnroe, who served as U.S. Davis Cup captain for one year, 2000. McEnroe resigned his captaincy at the end of the 2000 season and while it was believed he stepped down because he could not persuade Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras to consistently commit to every Davis Cup tie, McEnroe has said the USTA's unwillingness to commit to a John McEnroe Tennis Academy played a part in his decision to step down as captain.

Pointing out that the USTA is one of the wealthiest national tennis organizations in the world and generates tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue through the US Open, McEnroe said based on the USTA's poor track record of developing professionals the Tennis Association should "welcome us with open arms" and asserted the Sportime facility, which boasts 10 hard courts and 10 har-tru courts,  is "as good or better than the facility at the National Tennis Center."

"I notice (the USTA) say there are more kids playing at least which is a good sign. The USTA makes an obscene amount of money from one tournament," McEnroe said. "They have an obscene $150 million portfolio. I’m not sure what they’re doing with that (money). For many years I talked about the USTA about doing this very type of thing at the National Tennis Center and naming it the John  McEnroe Tennis  Academy. I was unable to get through to them and I’m thankful I’ve been given this tremendous opportunity at Randall’s Island by Claude (Okin) and his people in a facility that’s as good or better than the facility at the National Tennis Center. Having said that the tens of millions of dollars that they make every single year it would be in the sport's best interest to welcome us with open arms and provide us the type of money they provide numerous other programs."

Asked if he views his Academy as a director competitor with the USTA's own elite player development program led by his brother, former doubles partner and sometime ESPN US Open broadcast partner, Patrick McEnroe, John said "It certainly would appear that we’re in direct competition with the USTA. I would say the according to what I understand the charter of the USTA is supposed to help tennis in any way possible and to provide grants for people in certain situations. So as far as I’m concerned, they should be helping us."

Interestingly, the announcement of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy comes nearly two years after the USTA conducted a conference call introducing Patrick McEnroe as its General Manager of Elite Player Development. Asked in an interview last April if Patrick's presence as the head of USTA elite player development might help his aim to open the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at the NTC, John McEnroe replied "You would think so, wouldn't you? That remains to be seen."

While John is working with middle brother Mark McEnroe, an attorney who has signed on as General Manager of both the Randall's Island Sportime site and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (and served as "an emissary" read "mediator" between older and younger brothers, he said he has not directly discussed the project in depth with Patrick.

"I have not spoken with him specifically about the Academy," John said. "He hasn't called me to congratulate me yet. I don't know what that means."

The two brothers who have shared the court and the broadcast booth could well soon be two of the most influential figures in the nation in shaping the future of elite American tennis. Patrick McEnroe already carries the responsibility of reviving American tennis at the elite level in his role as General Manager. John made it clear he believes the USTA must be accountable for the state of American tennis and suggested they would be wise to invest in his Academy.

"The USTA has obviously struggled to find a formula that has been successful over the course of the last, what, 50 years," John McEnroe said. "They’re making incredible sums of money especially the last 10 years or so when Arlen Kantarian got involved. Now, they’ve got a lot of money that they can dish out. And their job is to decide what to do with that money. I think that the type of program that we have here would be excellent for them to provide us with the type of resources we need because I think I can be an inspiration leader for these kids. Obviously the USTA makes 75 to 100 million for that one tournament. They’ve got a portfolio in excess fo 150 million I’m not sure what they’re doing. Why does that portfolio have $150 million in it. Why don’t you check that out?"

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Shaping his Academy as an alternative to the popular international academies including the IMG Nick Bollettieri Academy and Saddlebrook, McEnroe said he aims to offer world-class coaching to New York Area juniors while permitting them to live more balanced lives by staying home and attending school rather than opting for the home-school approach many American juniors adopt. McEnroe himself graduated from Manhattan's Trinity School and spent a year at Stanford and said his experience helped him grow into a Grand Slam champion.

"I'd like to provide a different option. I wouldn’t have made it if I had been sent to a Bollettieri type place," McEnroe said. "I would have burnt out.  There hasn’t been any high-level elite coaching of the level we’ve had when I was at Port Washington in this area and I aim to change that."

Rather than a tennis-only approach, the McEnroe Academy will "support a balanced training experience for the developing elite player. All or virtually all students who are admitted to the Academy will attend a conventional school during the day and will train after school hours and on weekends during the school year. And they won’t be encouraged to play tennis seven days a week," according to Sportime. The Academy will offer tennis coaching, training and practice, coaching at on and off site tournaments, a fitness component and an academic support team. Students will live in New York City or the surrounding area. The cost of the Academy will be determined by each student’s personal plan, and partial and full scholarships will be available based on need and ability. In cases of need, the Academy will also provide equipment and apparel, as well as tournament travel and coaching, at no cost to the student. McEnroe has selected former ATP, Olympic and Israeli Davis Cup player Gilad Bloom as the Academy’s Director of Tennis and he and McEnroe are assembling a top-tier staff of international instructors and coaches.

Of course, there are challenges and questions. McEnroe himself has advised players including Boris Becker and Mark Philippoussis in the past, but apart from his one-season as Davis Cup captain he has no practical coaching experience. Will he be able to convey his knowledge of the game to juniors today, many of whom hit with western grips, have two-handed backhands and only venture to net to shake hands? In short, exactly the kind of players McEnroe is not. Will McEnroe, who already has a pretty packed schedule as a father, tennis television analyst and part-time senior circuit competitor, have the time to devote to the Academy and will he have the discipline to stick with an occupation in whichoften you don't see substantial results for years?

Additionally, many of McEnroe's best assets as a player — his eye-hand coordination, reflexes, anticipation, quickness and court sense — are qualities not easily transferred from coach to player. Asked if his movement and anticipation are qualities that are innate or can be taught, McEnroe replied: "That's a great question. I'm not sure I have a great answer."

"Some if it is innate, there’s no question about it," McEnroe said. "Part of that’s movement, but also your mental strength, tennis IQ and ability to think about and think about where you need to be and strategize about the next shot and all that flowing with your feet. Combining that with your head and getting your hands in position. If you look at one of my great rivals, Lendl, turned out to have a phenomenal career.  Ivan Lendl, if you looked at him at first you wouldn’t say 'Oh this guy moves like Federer.' He worked extremely hard to get himself to be this incredibly fit sort of almost machine like player and turned out to be intimidating and quite successful. So I think to some degree you can teach that stuff."

McEnroe also announced that the Academy will hold open tryouts this July for young persons interested in attending the McEnroe Academy starting in September. One boy and one girl between the ages of 8 and 16 will be selected by McEnroe to receive a full scholarship for a year of training at the McEnroe Academy. The tryouts will be held on July 14 for boys and on July 19 for girls, beginning at 8:30 a..m each day, at Sportime at Randall’s Island, One Randall’s Island, Manhattan. The tryouts will last the entire day for those who progress to the final rounds, and all finalists will be invited to watch McEnroe’s New York Sportimes World TeamTennis team play on the evening of their respective try-out dates. Each day’s winner will receive his/her scholarship award from McEnroe at half time of that evening’s televised match.

On July 14, the date of the boys’ try-outs, the NY Sportimes will battle Billie Jean King’s own Philadelphia Freedom franchise, and that match will feature the first-ever NYC match-up between John McEnroe, playing for NY and Andy Roddick playing for Philly. On July 19, the date of the girls’ try-outs, the Sportimes take on the Albany based NY Buzz and their star Martina Hingis. Playing for the Sportimes that night will be John McEnroe and Kim Clijsters.

For details on the tryouts and the Academy please visit www.sportimeny.com/JohnMcEnroeTennisAcademy.

Tickets for the NY Sportimes WTT matches are available by calling 888-WTT-NYC1 or by visiting www.nysportimes.com.

 

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