John McEnroe is busy training the next group of great American tennis players. In 2010, he launched the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA) in his hometown of New York City at the SPORTIME Randall's Island Tennis Center in Manhattan. His vision? Bring the buzz back to tennis--starting in his stomping grounds.
John's passion and belief is that great players can be developed in urban settings, while still having the opportunity to live at home, pursue their educational goals, and participate in a variety of sports and extracurricular activities. He is living proof. During his developmental years, McEnroe went to the Port Washington Tennis Academy on Long Island and remained involved in other activities, playing high school soccer until he was 18. He knows first-hand that training in a tennis-first environment would have been a recipe for disaster for him, and is instead trying to bring the New York urban mentality to training at his academy, while still producing spectacular talent.
"There is no right way to identify the best players in the world in tennis. We think this system, here in the heart of New York with millions of kids, will help expose more young people to the game, and out of that could come some great players. The most important thing is we give kids the opportunity to play...kids who are good athletes who may have chosen another sport, and we will see where it goes. So far, so good," McEnroe said.
Mark McEnroe, John’s brother and General Manager of the Academy and SPORTIME Facility, is focused on nurturing the well-rounded training program that the academy boasts. He shares John’s vision in bringing the excitement back to tennis in New York while reminding people that it’s here and it’s a great sport for kids to play. In the course of doing that, they aim to attract the really spectacular athletes and compete at the highest levels in tennis. Their belief is that balance and focus are the keys to youth player development and success in the sport. The Academy advocates that playing a few times a week at two hour intervals with some private lessons interspersed throughout, as opposed to 4-6 hour sessions that are the standard for other academies, should be enough if the players are really focused in those two hours and are making the most out of their training.
“Here we want to say: you don’t have to move away from your family and you don’t have to leave a regular school. You must give it your all and be serious about off court fitness training. Our pitch remains to be seen if it will be successful. Can we compete with other academies in the rest of the world that have a different model? Where they really believe: You need to train more, you need to focus more, you need to specialize earlier,” said Mark.
Most academies would tell young tennis players that in order to be good, they need to focus on their crafts early. A common trend is home schooling, which McEnroe is not a proponent of. JMTA feels that it delivers the training schedule developing athletes need to accommodate a regular school schedule. “Our best player [Noah Rubin] who is seventeen, only started homeschooling a year ago, and he’s top ten in the world in the 18 and under category. He got out of school early so he can augment training to a more reasonable level. That’s the model for kids who show promise. We encourage players to go in Noah’s path,” Mark said.
Noah Rubin, who is being hailed as the best tennis player to come out of New York since McEnroe, exudes maturity and focus far beyond his seventeen years. When considering a future as a pro, he is mindful of the big career decisions to be made in the near future, and that hard work and more importantly, balance, will take him to the next level. He attributes much of his development to being able to train close to home at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy while maintaining a balanced school schedule and social life.
“I wanted to be with my father and my coach [Lawrence Kleger] that I’ve been with for about nine years now. I didn’t want to be at a tennis academy full time. I didn’t think it was beneficial for me. I think being a kid also and coming here for a great academy with unbelievable coaches would really help me out,” Rubin said.
Rubin beat Liam Broady of Britain, 6-2, 6-3 to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2012 French Open Juniors last June. After the win, Rubin credited McEnroe by explaining the intangibles he gleaned from the tennis icon’s mentorship. "He just put a different perspective into my head, how to play tennis, how to look at different shots differently. I couldn’t get this from any other person," Rubin said.
Inspired by the vision and presence of McEnroe, JMTA will expand its training programs and share its world-class staff of teaching professionals and Assistant Directors with new JMTA annexes in Westchester and Long Island. Coaches, including former ATP and WTA top 75 professional players Fritz Buehning, Hana Sromova and Martina Sucha, will join with Assistant Academy Directors Bruce Haddad and Karim Balagh to bring the Mac way to promising players from all over the greater NY area. Most importantly, the Academy will continue to encourage young players to make the most of their abilities, while remaining focused on academic pursuits and in living balanced, healthy lives.