If the next great tennis phenom lives in New York City, John McEnroe wants to know.
The tennis great, who hails from Queens, went to Harlem earlier this week in an effort to find new talent for his John McEnroe Tennis Academy.
More than 50 young hopefuls showed off their skills at the Frederick Johnson Playground tennis courts, hoping to be selected for scholarships from his non-profit Johnny Mac Tennis Project to attend the academy on Randall’s Island.
Many talented young players may not have the money or resources to pay for expensive and extensive tennis lessons, McEnroe pointed out.
“My goal since I started this academy seven years ago is to be more inclusive and to make [tennis] more affordable and available to more kids,” said McEnroe, who won seven grand slam singles titles in his career. “The idea of having a champion come out of Harlem or the Bronx or Queens — specifically the city — that would be the most rewarding thing.”
“There’ve been very few players in the last 30 years who have made it out of New York and that just seems wrong,” he said.
This was the first time the program held tryouts outside the SPORTIME/JMTA Randall’s Island tennis center complex.
McEnroe’s brother, Patrick, who also had a successful professional tennis career, was on hand to scope out the youngsters and provide encouragement.
“Anyone who is going to be any good at tennis has to love it,” he said. “It takes a lot of time, a lot of hours, a lot of repetition.”
He said he doesn’t necessarily look for how fast a young player moves but if he or she has the timing and rhythm when hitting the ball.
Brooke Thomas came to the tryouts hoping for a chance at a scholarship.
“It’s a fun sport,” said the nine-year-old from Harlem. “It just makes me happy.”
Nine-year-old twins Lana and Lena Waterman said they had been practicing tennis every day leading up to the tryouts.
“I’m a little nervous,” admitted Lena.
John McEnroe said he also wants people to know you don’t have to move to Florida or start lessons as a young child to be successful.
“[Tennis] excludes a lot of people,” he said. “It excludes people who don’t want to live away from their parents when they are 12 years old. I didn’t want to.”
McEnroe lived in Queens and went to school in Manhattan where he played other sports — and still went on to be one of the best tennis players in the world.
“I’m certainly living proof it can be done,” he said.
This Saturday, McEnroe and his brother — joined by tennis celebrities Chris Evert, Mats Wilander and Pat Cash — hold a third annual benefit in East Hampton to raise funds for the Johnny Mac Tennis Project.
McEnroe said he always encourages kids to try their best, whether it’s tennis or other endeavors.
“You may not necessarily end up being the best tennis player in the world — but if you get into the habit of giving it 100 percent effort, you will end up being successful whatever you end up doing.”