Tennis greats John McEnroe and Andre Agassi took to their small global communications pulpit to blast the tennis establishment during a full-scale stump for the virtues of World Team Tennis during a media conference conducted by team tennis organizers this week. Amidst the flurry of jabs at tennis' muckety-mucks, the New York Sportimes announced Agassi will join McEnroe this summer in an attempt to raise funds for McEnroe's now-annual "give-back" to the New York City tennis programs that transformed him from an unknown Douglaston, Queens teenager to one of the greatest athletes and winners the sports world has ever seen.
The two tennis Hall of Famers, along with women's tennis great Martina Hingis, will compete in a World Team Tennis match between the New York Sportimes and Boston Lobsters on July 19 with proceeds to be donated to the "Johnny Mac" Tennis Project (JMTP). The charity program provides scholarships, coaching, transportation and other financial assistance to qualified young tennis players in the greater New York area. The special, one-time performance by Agassi will take place at Sportime Stadium on Randall's Island in New York City.
"Back in the '70s, when World Team Tennis started and Billie Jean King spearheaded the league, the matches were played in places like Madison Square Garden," noted McEnroe, a tennis participant at every level of the game from exhibitions, to team tennis to Davis Cup to the Grand Slam tour. "The top players in the world were all playing, and I remember that they didn't let Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg play in the French Open one year because they were playing team tennis.
"Now, the powers that be in tennis have made little effort to give this, perhaps, what it deserves," said McEnroe. "It would be beneficial to all to give this a real chance, and I don't think it's being given that chance. Billy Jean has been battling for it for years and she's trying to get a place in the schedule for it for years. It's a fun (event) to play and it gives tennis something for kids to look at it in a slightly different way than being out there by yourself. Certainly, there's a lot more work to be done," added McEnroe of his noteworthy belief on the importance of team tennis in the sport's hierarchy.
"I've always loved team tennis and I've always thought there's a huge place for it in our sport," said Agassi during a conference call with a global contingent of tennis and sports writers. "I've always loved the format but John can speak more of its history."
Last year, McEnroe faced tennis legend Bjorn Borg in the first JMTP benefit in front of a sold-out Sportimes Stadium crowd. Johnny Mac Tennis Project recipients train at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy which is now in its second year at Sportime Randall's Island.
"This year's Johnny Mac Tennis Project Night will highlight three of the most popular and exciting players ever to play the sport," said Sportime Clubs and NY Sportimes CEO Claude Okin. "Andre Agassi has become a notable humanitarian and ambassador for tennis as a life changing opportunity. We are thrilled that he will be part of this great night and join our efforts to improve the lives of young people and young players here in New York City. Hopefully one will become the next John McEnroe in the not too distant future."
Since its launch in 2010, the John McEnroe Tennis Academy has outgrown its original home on NYC's Randall's Island to expand to create two new annexes of the academy, scheduled to open on Long Island and in Westchester County this fall. The Academy's expansion will give young people who live in nearby suburbs a chance to train while they attend their own schools, much like McEnroe and his siblings did in Queens.
"We need to continue to find good athletes and expose them to tennis, and that's what this program has done," said McEnroe. "The tri-state area has thousands of kids, some of whom will excel in tennis if we give them the chance. That's what we are doing, giving them a chance to have well-rounded lives as they play the great game of tennis."
Part of the opportunity born through the McEnroe program will come in the form of scholarships to be partially funded from the July 19 event. Ticket prices for the event are steep but tax deductions are to be considered. Tickets for the benefit night on July 19 and for all NY Sportimes home matches can be purchased by calling 1-888-WTT-NYC1 or online.