Playing his best

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.
— Henry van Dyke Jr. (1852-1933), author, educator, diplomat, clergyman

It is the rare individual who follows his passion while also being realistic about his ability to express it. Such an individual is Patrick McEnroe.

The youngest brother of tennis legend John, Patrick says he had a “come to Jesus” moment about his tennis ability at an early age:  He would be good, but he would never be number one as his brother had been in singles and doubles. A lesser soul might’ve been crushed. Another person might’ve carved out a career in a different field. (And, truth be told, Patrick — who graduated from tennis and swimming powerhouse Stanford University with a degree in political science and is the son of the late lawyer John McEnroe Sr. — considered following in his father’s footsteps until he saw his law boards, he says with self-deprecating humor.)

Instead Patrick did something that his tennis students — or students in any discipline — might consider when at a crossroads. He asked himself a simple, profound question:  What did Patrick McEnroe want to do?

What he wanted to do was play tennis. And because he was willing to balance his love of the game with realistic expectations of what he could achieve, he created a multifaceted career in the sport that in some ways has transcended his brother’s. A solid singles player and a superb doubles player who had achieved a ranking of world No. 28 and No. 3 respectively by the time he retired from the pro tour in 1998, Patrick would go on to be the longest-serving coach of the American Davis Cup team (2000-2010), capturing the cup against Russia in 2007 with a team that included singles stars Andy Roddick and James Blake and the top doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan. Patrick also coached the American men’s team in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

“I love it, and I love it more than I ever have,” Patrick says of coaching, which he does as co-director of the John McEnroe Tennis Academies, a partnership with SPORTIME Clubs, at Lake Isle Country Club in Eastchester, on Randall’s Island in Manhattan (the flagship) and in Amagansett on Long Island. “It’s very rewarding and it’s another part of the life that tennis has given me as a player, as a coach, as a commentator, as a (former) USTA administrator and as a Davis Cup captain.”

Patrick is speaking by phone from the Bronxville home he shares with wife Melissa Errico, the Broadway, cabaret and TV star and WAG’s April cover, and their three daughters. On this day, the whole family is going to get tested for Covid-19 antibodies. Such is the new normal that instead of going for pizza, families are going for coronavirus or antibodies tests. It was in mid-March that Patrick tested positive for the virus, developing what he describes as a mild case — fever, aches and fatigue. For a month, he isolated himself in the basement of the family home, which has a separate entrance that enabled him to spend quality time with the family’s Yorkshire terrier, Pepper. A commentator for ESPN, where he’s a triple threat as an analyst, studio host and play-by-play man, Patrick also became intimately acquainted with his podcast equipment, starting his own podcast, “Holding Court With Patrick McEnroe.” It’s not your typical tennis talk show. For every legend of the sport, like Chris Evert, there are a lot more people like actors Alec Baldwin and Ben Stiller, former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, NBA greats Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki and golfer Sergio Garcia.

“They are people who have a passion for tennis, but they are not tennis professionals,” he says.

He has yet to have on his frequent broadcast and doubles partner, brother John. We recall a magical, bitterly cold winter evening at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan — World Tennis Day, March 3, 2014 — when the McEnroe brothers faced off against the much younger Bryan brothers in an exhibition that was the undercard for the main event, Novak Djokovic playing Andy Murray. (So special was the night — filled with sparkling play and cheeky humor — that we asked a Metro-North conductor for one of the gazillion posters advertising it on the Harlem line, which we still have framed in our home office.)

“Don’t remind me,” Patrick says with a laugh at the drubbing he and his brother took at the hands of the Bryan twins, after John did a little trash talking about the B and B boys. Watching the match was like a step back in time as John was in vintage “You cannot be serious” mode. So it’s fair to ask Patrick:  What’s it like to be John McEnroe’s doubles partner? Not what you’d think.

“It’s easy playing with him,” Patrick says. “He’s an amazing teammate, a great team player.”

While many like Patrick have made lemonade out of lemons in this time of the coronavirus, the losses are almost incalculable. Recently, the USTA decided to move the Western & Southern Open (Aug. 19 through 28) this year alone from Mason, Ohio, to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, where it will be followed in the US Open Series by the US Open (Aug. 31 through Sept. 13). As top players balked at being confined to Queens hotels and no entourages, recently appointed US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster (July 2019 WAG), who is also the USTA’s chief executive for professional tennis, has announced that players will each be given two hotel rooms, one covered by the tournament and the choice of bringing up to three additional guests. She also has a Realtor available for those who wish to rent houses for their families nearby, population-dense Manhattan being excluded. (See related story on Page 18.)

One point that has not been negotiable — no spectators. “First of all, given the choice between a US Open with limits and no fans and no Open, I’ll take the former,” Patrick says.

While the fans are like an additional player at the Open, famed for its raucous atmosphere, Patrick notes that for much of a player’s career — in school, in junior competition and in the qualifying rounds — there are few if any crowds.

“The players can easily adjust. As for the top players, and I mean those ranked 15 through 150, I’d say, ‘How much money are you making now? $0.’”

It all comes down to what Patrick asked himself as a youth, what he now asks his students, children and adults alike:  What is it you want to do?

By now, it’s clear what Patrick wants to do: He wants to see tennis back in New York.

For more, visit holdingcourt.buzzsprout.com.

 

Serving the underserved

John and Patrick McEnroe will join other greats of the sport at the sixth annual Johnny Mac Tennis Project’s Pro-Am in the Hamptons on Aug. 29. Participants will compete in a round-robin tournament alongside former WTA and ATP World Tour professionals, current and former Division I college players and top John McEnroe Tennis Academy pros.

Guests can bid on a silent auction blockbuster lineup, including items and experiences donated by Maison Atia, McLaren Automotive, Valmont, Vicki Morav, Hotel Wailea in Hawaii, The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester in White Plains and Eau Resort Palm Beach as well as tennis lessons with Patrick McEnroe, autographed pieces from Coco Gauff and Andy Murray and much more. Lalique will offer official tournament trophies.

This event raises funds for John McEnroe’s nonprofit Johnny Mac Tennis Project, which is designed to change young lives by removing the racial, economic and social barriers to success through tennis.

“It has always been my goal to provide as many opportunities as possible in the sport of tennis to people of all backgrounds and there has never been a more important time to do so than now,” he said in a statement. “Our sixth annual Hamptons Pro-Am is a great way for tennis lovers to come out and be part of this passion project — to introduce tennis to more young people who would not otherwise have the opportunity and to help create the next generation of American tennis champions.”

Event sponsors include Maison Atia, Lalique, Bird-In-Hand winery, Head/Penn Racquet Sports, Nike and BNP Paribas.

For more, visit jmtpny.org/proam2020 or contact JMTP at info@jmtpny.org or 212-427- 6150

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