The Johnny Mac Tennis Project’s Annual Pro-Am in the Hamptons, one of the largest Pro-Am tennis events in the world, will bring 64 pros and 64 amateurs to Sportime Amagansett on Saturday, August 25 to offer four hours of tennis excitement – including an exhibition featuring John McEnroe and Patrick McEnroe and other Tennis Legends. An After Party at a private residence will follow.
We recently chatted with John to learn more about this year’s 7 round tournament, The Johnny Mac Tennis Project, his US Open picks, and more.
Tell me a little bit about the other pros that will be joining you this year.
JM: We’re still working on that. We have a lot of pros from my club, but we’ll also have people like Lindsay Davenport and Mats Wilander. Players that were most likely formerly playing, not present, because the US Open starts two days later on a different surface. So you can’t realistically expect Roger Federer to come by – as nice as that would be.
How have funds raised during the Fourth Annual Pro-Am in the Hamptons impacted The Johnny Mac Tennis Project?
JM: This is one of our biggest fundraisers so that allows us to reach out to the community near where my club is and the Academy and hopefully get more kids – as many kids as possible – to be able to come and get a scholarship to be able to play at the Academy in Harlem, in the Bronx, in Queens, local, and try to hopefully change their lives. We’ve done that pretty successfully, but tennis is an expensive sport so we need to keep working on it because we need to not only raise money, but we need to raise awareness and get tennis into more public schools and be a part of that in the future. That’s the best opportunity for more kids to play.
What inspired you to found the organization?
JM: Growing up in Queens and being part of the fabric of New York City. I’ve lived in New York my whole life and having been able to succeed in the sport and become No. 1 and still be involved as a commentator and I grew up 15 minutes away from Flushing Meadow, it seemed like for the past 30 years or even more – maybe since my brother made it, there’s been very few players that have made it from the New York area that have made it on a professional level. Also, with Proposition 9 and the opportunities for young girls, they have more opportunities to get scholarships for college than ever before. It seemed like the least I could do would be to try and make it more available and more affordable and more feasible for as many kids as possible. It seemed like it would be great if there would be more kids impacted, their lives changed – obviously the best for me would be one of these kids come out of one of the areas in New York City and win the US Open, win Wimbledon, become the No. 1 player – that would be the ultimate dream for me. As far as in the interim, we’ve been able to help a lot of kids already get college scholarships or because they played, they were able to get into a great Ivy League school. We’re having success, but you have to keep at it.
How has the organization grown over the years?
JM: This is a work in progress that I feel like I’m going to want to be a part of for the rest of my days because I’ve had success playing and with things around the sport of tennis, but this would be a nice way to give back. I think this makes the most sense because the sport, to me, I don’t want to say peaked, but in a way I feel like it did. I was lucky to come into this sport in the 70s and 80s where it was booming and a lot of American players, particularly men more so – because we still have Serena and Venus and more success on the women’s side – but we haven’t had a lot in the past 20 years in the men. It would be nice to sort of change that and see more young kids playing tennis.
Why did you decide to hold the tournament in the Hamptons?
JM: The truth is my partner, the guy that I work with, owns a club in Amagansett. That makes it. Obviously in August people are out there and that seemed like it would be the sensible thing to do. We’ve tried it in different locations, but this has got something like 35 courts and the ability to handle something like this when we’re trying to have 35/40 pros.
Will you be playing this year?
JM: I will be playing. The quality of my playing is diminishing year by year, but I will be playing. I actually am playing the day before in an exhibition in New Haven, so I still continue to play. Albeit, sporadically and understandably as you get older it, gets tougher. But, luckily, tennis is a sport you do your whole life so there’s ways to mask your deficiencies.
Now if you had to pick, out of all the current players, who would be your dream doubles partner and why?
JM: If I could pick anyone… if you look at Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the best guys, even though they don’t even play doubles that would be my first choice to play with because I think they could do anything they wanted and could certainly help me out. There’s guys like Nick Kyrgios who sometimes appears to have a couple of screws loose, but he’s a great team player, actually, and he’s a great teammate. We’d maybe be able to hit it off nicely because he’s extremely talented. It’d be fun to work with one of these young kids coming up like Denis Shapovalov. So, there’s people out there that get the juices flowing.
For those interested in playing, at what skill level would you recommend they be at?
JM: The bottom line is we don’t want anyone thinking, oh they’re not good enough because the point is the money that we’re getting, we’re trying to utilize as effectively as possible to get kids to be able to play tennis. So we’re not concerned about your level, we can work around that. But, I think as with any sport, it’s generally more fun if you feel like you’re capable of holding your own.
There’s also an opportunity for eight lucky amateurs to compete with and against Tennis Legends and current and former ATP and WTA touring athletes.
JM: That’s a little more of the dare we say elite level of what you’re going to get. Chris Evert came last year. It depends on what you’re looking for. The idea would be if you’re nice enough to donate some more money, we’ll try to make you feel like the money is not only worth it and will be used well, but you’ll get an experience, you’ll enjoy playing with some former pros.
With the US Open coming up, who are some of your top picks?
JM: The favorites are the obvious ones. Djokovic just came back and sort of reestablished himself. Nadal and Federer have won the previous six majors, so it would be hard to feel that one of those three players wasn’t going to win it. In a way, I would like to see some new blood. Whether it’s a guy like Zverev, the German, who is ranked 3 or 4 in the world, but he hasn’t done anything big in the big events. As far as the women, it’s more unpredictable. They’ve been spreading the wealth a little bit. A lot of players like Wozniacki and Halep have won majors for the first time and so it feels like there’s more players that could win it. But, ultimately, at the moment and it’s been this way for a long time, you look at Serena and you sort of look at her and say, “How hungry is she?” And she appears to be very hungry. Has she been able to come back all the way from having her baby and the complications that took place, and her age? But, she’s always the one everyone looks at. If she plays up to the level of her game and has been able to train the way that she feels she needs, it’s hard not to pick her – even at 36.
On the women’s side, do you think there will be a lot of upsets like at Wimbledon?
JM: I don’t think there will be as many as that. That was extremely unusual circumstances, but I think part of what people like in a way is that it’s unpredictable. Ultimately, you saw Serena in the finals and Kerber winning, who had won a few a few years ago. It sort of settled after the initial sort of crazy – you didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think there was a single top ten player ranked in the quarters. But, at the same time, you still looked at Serena.
In regards to the American tennis program, are there any up-and-coming players that excite you? Where do you see the program going?
JM: Obviously it’s something I’m interested in. I see some players that are making some breakthroughs and headway. I believe I already see some players like Francis Tiafoe that I believe will be for sure a top 10 player, but I don’t know I see the player yet that I think, oh that guy is going to win multiple majors. I think he’s got a great opportunity and I think it would be good obviously for the sport to boom in America because we got spoiled in a way with a lot of past champions that won majors, Americans. Now, in a way, John Isner got to the semis in Wimbledon, but in order to move the needle and create more excitement, it would be some of these young guys that would be able to step up and win some. He would be the choice, to me if I had to pick one guy, but there’s other guys out there. There’s guys like Jared Donaldson and other young players trying to make that breakthrough and making some headway. At the moment, if you were going to pick guys, you’d pick guys that aren’t Americans.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
JM: My wife, Patty Smyth, is playing at the Talkhouse on August 24.
The pro-am tennis tournament at Sportime Amagansett will take place from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., while the After Party/Auction at a private residence begins at 8 p.m. The post-tournament soiree, sponsored by Bird in Hand winery, will feature food, drink entertainment, and more.
Sportime Amagansett is located at 320 Abrahams Path in Amagansett. For more information about The Johnny Mac Tennis Project and Annual Pro-Am in the Hamptons, visit www.jmtpny.org.