John McEnroe, visit to the bad boy tennis academy

From our New York special correspondent Loïc Grasset

Updated

Former terrible child John McEnroe and his brother run a 650-student academy. So that their sport is not reserved for the rich.

“Bend your knee well. Square. Then open the racket as an offering, almost resting on the ground. So. Good job! On the blue cement wheelbarrow tracks at John McEnroe Tennis Academy, eight boys and girls At the age of 11 and 17, they listen to their instructor in amazement during the day, because, legend has it: a service lesson and volleyball by John McEnroe is like a dance lesson by the late Rudolf Nureyev or a master class in dribbling by Cristiano Ronaldo. his teammates, the tennis glories of the 1980s, often look closer to Botero’s inflated creatures than to Modigliani’s emaciated statuettes.

Also read: “We are a tennis academy”

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At 63, he has also maintained the stentorian voice and incandescent temperament that made him famous. “I have a good metabolism. [Rires.] In fact, until recently, he played on the circuits of old glories. I went there not only for fun, but also to do the best show. And if it is possible to win. It’s always better than losing, isn’t it? Big Mac River, a sacred tennis monster with its seven Grand Slams won, unforgettable matches against the Swede Björn Borg and biblical screaming matches on the biggest courts on the planet.

What happens after this announcement?

Right now, standing on the edge of the tracks of his academy on Randall Island, an arm of the Manhattan River, John McEnroe oversees the training of his protégés, the 650 girls and boys who have come to perfect the their skills. and, who knows, become professionals. This morning, on the track, Izyan Ahmad alias “Zizou”. At the age of 11, this son of Indian Kashmir emigrants, the best American player in his age group, sends mines and blocks of cement to two preteens, the peonies, about to have a stroke. “He’s a good guy,” said John McEnroe. He’s been with us since he was … 8 years old. During the day he trains for three hours and in the evening he sleeps at his mother’s and father’s house. But you must also remember to breathe. A child must remain a child. »

Jogging along the East River.

© EVA SAKELLARIDES

Twenty tennis courts, a gym, a restaurant, small administrative buildings, the nursery of the champion sections. It is in this strip of greenery, facing the 20 million-souled urban Moloch, dotted with woods and surrounded by interchanges, that this unique tennis school was established in 2009. “My brother John and I are staunch New Yorkers, we have that in our blood, ”he explains, even bubbling enthusiastically like his grandson, Patrick McEnroe, who was a good player in the top 50 in the 1980s and 1990s with a double win at Roland Garros. So we decided to set up an academy in New York for talented boys and girls from poor families. And, believe me, it’s much harder here than anywhere else. »

What happens after this announcement?

What happens after this announcement?

McEnroe’s thing is not technique. He sees tennis as a strategy game. Where we put ourselves in the opponent’s head

What has never been said and written about New York, the ultimate, Promethean and poisonous city, a challenge to the world order and the monotonous gods: 690,000 trees, 251 skyscrapers and $ 10 vanilla ice cream ball in SoHo . Everything is bigger, more expensive, harder and more “wow!” than anywhere else. “If you can do it here, you can do it everywhere,” say local philosophers Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli. And what goes for the song also goes for tennis. “If you’re not the son of a doctor, a trader or a lawyer, it’s hard to fund player training in New York,” said Patrick McEnroe. Including training – between three and four hours a day – the material, travel to line up for tournaments, a budget of 50,000 euros per year is required. In 2009, with the help of his brother Mark, a lawyer, the McEnroes multiplied charities and calls for donations from former sponsors such as Nike, to raise the funds needed for their beautiful purpose.

Volleyball service and lesson with a great teacher.

Volleyball service and lesson with a great teacher.

© EVA SAKELLARIDES

Only in 2019 will they find the right sponsor, the French bank BNP Paribas, which has been present in tennis for almost fifty years. “I really enjoyed the McEnroe brothers’ talk about the ‘return’ the city gives to this sport as much as this sport has given it, ”explains Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA. Obtained glory and consecration, many champions prefer to let go of the reins and grow “a belly beer”: the belly of a beer drinker. No John McEnroe. With more than $ 12 million in a career that ended in 1992, a very nice sum at the time, and good advertising contracts, he could have grown his garden in his hometown of Malibu, California. Not your type. In 2022, he still crosses veteran tournaments and discusses, with his brother Patrick, Grand Slam tennis matches for ESPN, the BBC, NBC and CBS.

“Tennis has become stereotyped,” says Big Mac. Technology, I think mostly of snowshoes, and the new rules have loaded the dice. Before, athletes had no say in front of artists and stylists. They always lost. Today, brute force prevails over the beautiful game. There are too many giants sending missiles from the right or serving on the circuit. Tennis needs to be reinvented in terms of marketing to be exciting again. On the walls of his office, hundreds of barely yellowish photos of his feats of arms, former opponents such as the German Boris Becker, recently imprisoned in London for tax evasion. “It’s terrible what is happening to him,” admits John McEnroe, very excited. I promised myself I’d go see it when I go to comment on Wimbledon this summer. I will do. I will go to see him in prison and show him my friendship. »

With a big heart and a desire to pass on his passion, John McEnroe imagined, in New York, a Team Mac 1, ten young people, five boys and five girls with great potential who, thanks to sponsorship, will have the means to make it a reality. their dreams. and become professionals. BNP contributes 500,000 euros to the program each year, or 50,000 euros per child. “In total, our teams of young talent are helping 150 children around the world,” explains Bertrand Cizeau, responsible for the bank’s commitment. In France, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the godfather. »

The teacher and the next generation: Izyan Ahmad, 11, the best American player in his age group, and Stephanie Yakoff, 16, winner of the Orange Bowl.

The teacher and the next generation: Izyan Ahmad, 11, the best American player in his age group, and Stephanie Yakoff, 16, winner of the Orange Bowl.

© EVA SAKELLARIDES

This initiative stands out in the world of tennis business. In the United States, especially in Florida, there are a lot of academies like IMG (ex-Bollettieri), Chris Evert or Patrick Mouratoglou. These champion factories recruit talent from all over the world from 10 to 12 years old and train them to become stars. In full board, the cost of training can exceed 100,000 euros per year. Some academies even take a percentage of future star revenue in exchange for pro bono training, as they once did with sisters Venus and Serena Williams.

Today, brute force prevails over the beautiful game, tennis must be reinvented

At the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, the philosophy is to recruit only disadvantaged local children, to provide them with a solid sports education and the opportunity to access the most prestigious schools. “It’s good to have options,” says Big Mac. He and his brother talk consciously. Thanks to tennis, they got free admission to Stanford University in California. Example followed by Stephanie (in homage to Steffi Graff) Yakoff, 16, Ultrabrite smile and already structured speech. Her father, a computer technician, drives her every morning after college. Her mother is a life assistant in a hospital. It is not enough to pay for a 5-star training session for his daughter, who nevertheless won the Orange Bowl in Florida, the equivalent of the junior world championship.

“We convinced his parents that he would find a balance with us,” recalls Patrick McEnroe. In tennis, pressure, stress and even exhaustion exist from the age of 12. It’s easy to break. “I’ve been playing since I was 3,” says Stephanie Yakoff. I would like to be a professional, of course. But I prefer to secure a future by joining Harvard with a good deal: free education, and in return I represent the university in the interclubs. The youngster hopes to win enough games and tournaments to play in the US Junior Open this fall. “The basics, the technique … it’s not mine,” John McEnroe continues. I want to feed the kids with my rage to win, my refusal to defeat. I see tennis as a game of chess. You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people. »

In the stands of Roland-Garros, with Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA, which finances the school with 500,000 euros a year.

In the stands of Roland-Garros, with Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA, which finances the school with 500,000 euros a year.

© Virginie Clavieres / Paris Match

“When we exchange balls with him, it’s always a ‘difficult time,'” says Joseph Oyebog Junior of Cameroon. At 14, the 1.80-meter-tall staker, who spends four hours a day training, has already won junior tournaments against 18-year-olds. “It simply came to our notice then. Tomorrow’s victories are forged in today’s defeats “, continues Izyan Ahmad, the phenomenon of the academy. His mother, Nida, born in India and crazy about tennis, scheduled him to be champion. “I arranged for my caesarean section to be performed on June 3, because it is the birthday of Rafael Nadal, my idol,” he said. And from the age of 2 we put him in tennis and football. “Young“ Zizou ”faces 14- or 15-year-olds for hardening and is only afraid:“ Measuring less than 1.80 meters once my growth is over. The storytelling is ready, ecumenical, compatible with Netflix. Hopefully Wayne’s boy, New Jersey, will become the first American to win the US Open. And, above all, the first New Yorker to be a prophet in his homeland since 1984 and a certain John McEnroe.

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