From 1977-1989 and 1979-2000, Madison Square Garden, the World’s Most Famous Arena, held the year-end men’s and women’s tennis championships. After an eight-year hiatus, professional tennis returned to The Garden on March 10, 2008 with the NetJets Showdown between world number one Roger Federer and former Grand Slam record holder Pete Sampras. The following year, women’s tennis returned to The Garden with the BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup in 2009 and 2010. Last year, four legends of the game took to the court when Ivan Lendl squared off against John McEnroe, followed by Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. This year, the BNP Paribas Showdown will feature two headlining matches between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, as well as Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova on the women's side.
Along with the highly-anticipated matches, the BNP Paribas Showdown is part of “Tennis Night in America” which has annually marked the start of the tennis season in the United States and begins a month of professional events that includes the BNP Paribas Open and Sony Ericsson Open. Last year, Pete Sampras was the spokesman and more than 700 tennis facilities across the country participated. This year, hometown tennis hero John McEnroe has been selected "Tennis Night in America" spokesperson, and in accordance, he held a tennis clinic at his John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA) at Sportime on Randall’s Island for a select group of NYJTL students.
McEnroe started the clinic by taking photos with the youngsters and joked around with them before the hitting began. After the kids were formally introduced to John, it was off to the courts where the kids participated in drills and played games under the direction of the elite pros of the JMTA. As the drills were underway, John would go up to the kids individually to assist them with their strokes and offer words of advice.
McEnroe discussed his appearance last year for the BNP Paribas Showdown which saw him retire due to an ankle injury received practicing before the match but he said that, “I am ready to go this year if they need me, but in all seriousness, it had been 15 years since I had a chance to play at The Garden, and I have loved going to events there since I was eight years old, I still go all the time and I even have friends on the Rangers. I was lucky because when I was coming up, our year-end Masters event was always held at The Garden, and I think it was a big mistake by our sport to let it leave."
“Andy needs to bring his A+ game if he has any desire to win. It is not getting easier for him at this point and even if he was a perennial top 10 player, the game has become more athletic and power has taken a back seat," said McEnroe of Roddick. "But with his big serve, he always has a chance to win. Lately, I have seen him trying to be more aggressive, especially with his forehand so I hope he keeps that going. Andy should also have the crowd behind him which could give him an advantage but Roger is the best player I have ever seen play the game so it’s definitely going to be tough.”
McEnroe has made it his goal to get more kids playing tennis which was why he started his Academy last year.
“I think we need to think more outside the box to get more kids involved with the sport” said McEnroe. “We need to do a better job promoting it. In other countries, the interest in tennis is higher than here. I think one reason for this is that there are so many other accessible sports here, which is a good thing as I played many other sports than tennis, but I think the main point is that America’s best athletes, tend to play other sports while overseas, you will find that the best athletes play tennis. We need to find a way to get our top athletes interested in tennis as well.”
After the kids participated in their drills and games, McEnroe fielded questions from the students and gave them some background on his life and playing career. One question was “When did you start playing in national tournaments?” to which he replied, “When I was probably about 10 or 11, I started playing in other places besides New York such as Tennessee and North Carolina. Then when I was 17 or 18, I started playing professional tournaments."
Another question asked was: “Who encouraged you to play tennis?”
"There was a local pro who encouraged me to play because he thought I could play well and of course my parents did also and I loved to play sports and be active so I continued to play and get better," replied McEnroe.
In closing, John expressed his gratitude to the young tennis players by saying, “I am so glad to see everyone here because now that I don’t play professionally anymore, I am trying to get more kids to play tennis. So I am glad you all came out here, I hope you enjoy our facilities and hope to see you all continuing to play tennis.”