| By Brian Coleman

 

Earlier this year, Sportime and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA) announced that Patrick McEnroe would be joining their team as co-tennis director at its Randall’s Island location.

“I had discussions with Sportime years and years ago when they first had this concept, before they had even built Randall’s Island,” said Patrick. “That was around the same time the USTA came to me, I was also the Davis Cup captain at the time, and said they were interested in having me take on player development. I decided to do it because it was a huge challenge and undertaking.”

Patrick stepped down from his post with the USTA in 2014, but not before laying the foundation there that has helped produce many of the up-and-coming young Americans who are already having an impact on the pro tour.

“Our goal was to create a lot of good players, because I don’t think you can necessarily produce a great player, one that can be number one in the world,” he said. “I’m really proud of what were able to build, working as a team and with the private sector. Now, we have a solid group of top players, and they’re going to keep pushing each other to be better.”

After his time at the USTA, he continued with his broadcasting career at ESPN, but wanted to get back into the coaching world, specifically, with junior tennis locally.

Patrick told his brother John he was interested in getting involved with something else, and the two agreed that if he were to do something in this field, joining Sportime/JMTA made the most sense. After a few meetings with Sportime President Claude Okin and Vice President/Managing Director Ben Schlansky, it became official.

“I am very pleased that my brother Patrick has decided to join us at JMTA as we continue to refine our model and expand our impact,” John said. “There probably isn’t anyone who understands American tennis and New York tennis better than Patrick, and nobody in the world that has better or more experience coaching talent at the highest levels of the game. Patrick is going to help us make a difference.”

Patrick McEnroe comes to Sportime/JMTA following nearly a decade as the head of player development for the USTA, and brings many years of experience to Sportime as a player and a coach.

“I started in January and we were able work things out pretty quickly in terms of what my role would be, understanding that I hadn’t really done anything like this in the past,” Patrick said. “Coming on to work with Lawrence Kleger as co-director and get the feel of the staff and how things are done, it’s been a really fun learning process for me over the last few months. I’ve taken a lot in and have seen how things are done here … I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m just trying to add something positive to the program and hopefully make it better.”

One of the things that Patrick missed while serving in his role with the USTA was being on the court working with players. He spends most of his day at Sportime/JMTA going on the court during group sessions, injecting his knowledge into the coaches and players, while learning from the coaches as well.

“One thing I missed that I’m really enjoying now, which I didn’t do with the USTA, is being on the court pretty much the whole time,” said Patrick. “I’m roaming the courts, observing the drills and trying to provide feedback to the coaches on what they are doing. I didn’t really have the opportunity to do that much when I was with the USTA because my job was more administrative.”

Junior tennis is a new venture for Patrick, and he says he learned a lot about running small groups from Jose Higueras while at the USTA, and is now doing the same from Kleger.

“He [Kleger] likes to remind me that he used to watch me when I was a junior,” Patrick joked. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for guys who have been in what I call the trenches of junior tennis for a long time. But I think now being involved in it, I have even more respect for those guys. I’m trying to learn from them, while at the same time, bring some of my experiences as a player, as well as someone who has been in the game for my whole life.”

Growing up playing in the Eastern Section and now with daughters currently playing in the Section, Patrick is as knowledgeable as they come regarding tennis in the local community. He understands both the positive aspects as well as the challenges of being a tennis player in the New York area.

“I think one of the biggest challenges we have as a Section is finding available court time, and that’s a factor for all New York City kids. I think the tournaments are very well-run, but sometimes you have kids who are 12 and under playing matches at 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.,” McEnroe said, recalling a time when his daughter called him from a Super Six at 10:00 p.m. having not played her consolation match yet. “We like to say that toughens you up, that’s part of what makes our players tough. You have to deal with things like that and playing in different weather conditions. I think that’s a positive in our area because there is a lot of passion in doing it that way, and that’s the only way we can do it. It’s not like being in Florida or Southern California.”

The McEnroe’s are perfect examples of the toughness that comes as a result of growing up playing tennis in the New York area, and it’s something they look to pass on to the more than 700 kids in the Sportime/JMTA program. The two are also excited to be working alongside one another which, despite both being tennis lifers, hasn’t always been the case.

“My brother and I have been around tennis our whole lives and the sport has created amazing lives for us. We’ve been sort of doing the same kinds of things, but not together,” said Patrick. “I always worked at ESPN, and for years, John worked for everyone else besides ESPN. He was here at Sportime/JMTA and I was at the USTA for those years. So it’s nice to come back full circle. We’re both in our 50s now and it’s great to be working together. The good thing about it is that we can disagree, and we can hash it out. I think that’s a healthy thing for both us and the program. It’s no secret that we haven’t always agreed 100 percent on what’s the best player development path, but there are a lot of things we do agree on, and there has got to be a give and take. For example, doing more drilling and technical work in group sessions. Obviously still focusing on competitiveness, which is John’s number one thing, but I’m also someone who really believes, especially with younger kids, that they should be doing more work on stroke production and understanding what it takes to produce a certain shot.”

So as Sportime Randall’s Island and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy continues its growth and expansion, Patrick McEnroe is excited to be a part of that and help build on its already successful formula.

“They’re running a great program already,” said Patrick. “I can bring something to the table and help make it better. In doing so, it’ll help the kids improve, have fun and be competitive players and people. The experience here will be a part of building their character, not just as a tennis player, but as a human being.”

 

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com