New York City native and tennis legend John McEnroe needs no introduction to sports fans or the public at large. He helped to revitalize American tennis at a time when the Australians dominated the sport, and his artistry on the court bordered on the sublime. His fiery on-court competitive spirit garnered worldwide publicity and produced tabloid headlines in an era well before social media. If McEnroe played today, his name would be trending daily.
His 77 singles titles include seven Grand Slams, and for good measure he collected 78 doubles trophies along the way, placing him first on the tour for combined wins. In 1984 he compiled an astounding 82-3 singles record, ranking as the greatest winning percentage in the history of the sport.
At a young age McEnroe began to see the world from a perspective that few people get to experience. As a rising star in the very competitive world of professional tennis, McEnroe found himself on airplanes a good amount of time, traveling to such iconic tournaments as Wimbledon in London and the French Open in Paris.
“I loved the travel experience and getting to see all these major cities at such a young age was awesome,” he recalls. “Paris was the first European city I visited. Every building was incredible and it’s where I developed a love of art. Also, the cultural options in London were fantastic. I first met Bjorn Borg in Stockholm, which is a great city. We quickly developed a relationship that lasts to this day.”
When asked which city is his favorite, he doesn’t hesitate. “New York,” he says. “I grew up there and it has such energy.”
Known for a combustible temperament while competing, he felt at home playing in Italy. “The people there were more aligned to my emotions,” he explains. Although he skipped the Australian Open his first five years on the tour, eventually playing later on, he played an exhibition in Sydney, a city he came to love. “I wish I had played the Australian Open earlier, and perhaps I could have won a few more Slams,” he says.
After his illustrious career ended in 1994, he transitioned into broadcasting and quickly became the sport’s most astute commentator, earning a Sports Emmy nomination. His keen insights come from someone who’s “been there, done that” at an extremely high level, while his witticisms and dry humor keep the audience highly entertained. Listening to him dissect the match during a Wimbledon final is sometimes better than watching the match itself.
He recently took on a highly unlikely project as the narrator for the Netfilx comedy, Never Have I Ever, a Mindy Kaling show about the trials and tribulations of teenage girls. “At first the media wrote that I seemed like a bizarre choice, and I thought I’d only have a few lines. But it seems to be working well. It’s fun to do and my kids love her.”
However, it’s his commitment to the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at SPORTIME Randall’s Island and the Johnny Mac Tennis Project that has required much of his attention over the last decade. Nestled on an island oasis in the middle of the New York City boroughs, the academy is a stunning complex that boasts 20 courts: ten Deco-Turf hard tennis courts and ten Har-Tru clay tennis courts, five indoor hard courts, year round, five hard courts and ten clay courts are housed in three air structures during the indoor season and are available for outdoor play during the outdoor season. Plans are underway to add ten more courts. McEnroe, who was raised in Queens, participated in a variety of activities on the island as a kid.
“I tried for years to open an academy and SPORTIME was in tune with my mission,” he says. “We both have a similar vision of becoming the number one tennis academy in the country.” Lawrence Kleger is Co-Director of Tennis along with McEnroe’s brother Patrick, a high quality tour player in his own right.
The Johnny Mac Tennis Project changes young lives by removing the racial, economic and social barriers to success through tennis. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Project introduces tennis to thousands of under-resourced New York City area children, particularly those living in East Harlem and the South Bronx, two communities immediately adjacent to the facility. Although McEnroe and his talented staff, including Executive Director Jordan Botjer, would love to produce a Wimbledon champion one day, the overall goal is to give kids some hope of rising from a bleak situation.
“In many respects tennis still has a country club stigma attached to it and we are trying to make it more accessible for everyone,” he explains. “We are focusing on people who can’t afford to play, and it can sometimes be an uphill battle. It’s important because kids can change because of sports. It gives them an opportunity to blow off steam, but there are many young kids who are not given the same opportunity as others. Let’s make things fair for everyone.”
To date the project has reached almost 6,000 students through community projects and has awarded $6.5 million in scholarships and community programs. “New York is an expensive place to be, thus the need to fundraise on a continual basis,” he states. People who are interested in making a donation can find information at this link.
“We have a strong desire to succeed,” he says.
Judging by McEnroe’s long track record of success, the kids at the academy are sure to reap the benefits far beyond their formative years.
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