As hordes of reporters and photographers were in Melbourne, Australia, over the weekend documenting Belarus' Victoria Azarenka's and Serbia's Novak Djokovic's continued dominance, I had an on-court seat to watch America's future being personally molded by the greatest tennis player New York has ever produced—John McEnroe.
It was just another cold January day for most residents of Bethpage, Long Island, but for the students of John McEnroe Tennis Academy, it was just another afternoon of intense focus inside the newest of his three metropolitan locations.
But can McEnroe return American tennis to prominence? That is the $64,000 question.
Many still believe that it's Academy giant IMG, since they continue to churn out talent, but the Bolletieri products of late seem to be missing that "it" factor that American's used to have.
McEnroe still has "it" flowing through his veins, at 53-years-old, and JMTA differentiates itself by epitomizing his passion and attitude.
The level of importance they place on their students leading a balanced life is paramount in McEnroe's vision for American tennis.
"Strive for excellence in everything you do" is the McEnroe mantra, and this message, perseverated in every pep-talk and words of encouragement that I witnessed he and his world-class coaching staff give on Saturday.
JMTA is non-residental—meaning the kids and families are not uprooted from their lives, and the staff advocates intense two-hour training sessions, as opposed to live-in academies that eat, sleep and breath training.
In essence, McEnroe is trying to remind people that you don't have to take away someone's childhood in order to develop a tennis star.
When the 17-time major champion (seven singles titles and 10 doubles titles) isn't devoting time to his art gallery, band or color commentary duties, he can be found at his academy—being very hands on with the development of the students.
On this day, he preached strategy, taking advantage of your strengths, using what's between your ears and occasionally barking out the basic reminder to all courts, "is everybody using continental grip on serve?"
As I watched McEnroe mix it up with his best pupils, Sportime's Executive Director of Tennis and Director of John McEnroe Tennis Academy, Lawrence Kleger, leaned over and assured me that we were watching the best 53-year-old tennis player in the world.
There was no argument from me or any other onlookers, as the Champion more than backed up that statement during a competitive game of "king of the court".
Take away the wooden racket, long hair and hip-hugger shorts—replace that with short grey hair and a orange New York Knicks t-shirt, and McEnroe's intensity was the same as it ever was—eyeballing every close call and talking to himself on the court, but ultimately putting on a clinic.
When he took a quick break from holding down his "kingly" duties in the game, his competitive wit emerged after Director Kleger offered him water.
Kleger: John, you need a bottle of water?
McEnroe: I need about 10 years (chuckling, forgoing the water and getting back on the court).
At the end of the day, McEnroe's academy will produce a new wave of great American talent—not because of the hours spent on the court, but because he's teaching them to live a well-balanced life and strive for success in anything they do.
Entering it's third year of existence, JMTA can hang its hat on potentially producing the best tennis player to come out of New York since McEnroe himself, and that is Noah Rubin.
JMTA is emerging as a healthy and viable academy powerhouse for New Yorkers who wish to give their kids the best tennis instruction without comprising their childhood.
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