Patrick McEnroe, whom John Graham described as “the most famous tennis coach in this country — America’s ambassador to tennis,” gave a clinic for about 30 children ranging in age from 5 to 16 at the Ross School’s bubble Saturday morning.
“I’ve known him since he was 4,” said Graham, the director of Ross’s children’s programs, during a conversation the next day. “We used to play together. I’m five years older. When he turned 13 he beat me regularly.”
“He’s been a success at everything he’s done in tennis — as a player on the tour, as our Davis Cup captain, as an ESPN commentator, and, now, as the director of player development in this country for the U.S.T.A.,” Graham said. “He’s trying to develop a unified teaching methodology here, similar to what they have in Spain, a program that will turn out top all-court players, men and women. And he’s very interested in democratizing the sport, in rewarding ability. He’s based at the National Tennis Center, but he also oversees regional centers in Florida, California, and Texas.”
While McEnroe, who had a chance that morning to meet up again with his fellow French Open champion doubles partner, Jim Grabb, the parent of a Ross School student, deals with 13 to 18-year-olds at the national level, “he also thinks that the Quick Start method, with the smaller rackets, mini-nets, and low-pressure balls, is crucial to introducing the game to small children.”
The 8-and-under and 10-and-under tournaments, which used to use the entire court, now use mini-nets, which are set up at right angles to the main one. “With the mini-nets you can have 12 children playing crosswise on a court now, whereas before you could get no more than four,” said Graham, who added that with the more user-friendly nets, balls, and rackets children were becoming acclimated to the various strokes and to game tactics at a much earlier age than used to be the case.
The clinic and a talk afterward by McEnroe cost $350. The money raised went into the school’s scholarship fund. Forty-seven percent of Ross’s students are said to be receiving financial aid.
While most of Saturday’s clinic takers were young children, members of Ross’s league champion boys tennis team, including Henry Lee, Felipe Reis, Spencer Kuzon, and Trippie Tuff, worked out with McEnroe as well before leaving for a nonleague match at Half Hollow Hills West.
As of Tuesday, the Cosmos, whose coach is Vinicius Carmo, were 10-0 in league play and 12-1 over all.
In recent matches, Ross defeated Westhampton Beach, its chief rival, coming back from one set down in four matches to win 6-1, and, in handier fashion, defeated Southampton 6-1 as the Mariners’ number-one, Jeremy Dubin, continued to perplex Richard Sipala, defeating him 6-4 in the third set after Sipala had gone up 4-3 in the first, only to lose 6-4, and was serving at 4-2 in the third.
Carmo is to take his players to the division individual tourney at Shoreham-Wading River this weekend and has high hopes for all his players — especially when it comes to Sipala, who’s been seeded second, behind Dubin, Ian Combemale, who “might surprise some people,” and the doubles team of Reis and Lee.
The county team and individual tournaments, at Smithtown East High School, are to begin the following week. Last year, Ross was the runner-up to Half Hollow Hills East, which in a nonleague match earlier this season bested the Cosmos 5-2.
Carmo said that Ross should have three of the team tournament matches at home in its bubble, which is to come down in the first week of June.