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Patrick McEnroe Talks College Tennis

Patrick McEnroe knows he's best known as the younger brother of John McEnroe, but he has something big brother doesn't have - a college degree.

Patrick McEnroe is a college tennis proponent and fan
courtesy, Rick Limpert
McEnroe won one singles title and 16 doubles titles, including the 1989 French Open Men's Doubles on the ATP World Tour. His career-high rankings were No. 28 in singles (1995) and No. 3 in doubles (1993). After retiring from the tour in 1998, Patrick had a successful run as U.S. Davis Cup captain, the longest-tenured captain in U.S. history, winning the cup in 2007. After leaving his Davis Cup role in 2010, McEnroe focused on his television commentary work, and he also served as the General Manager of Player Development for the USTA until mid-2015. Patrick joined his brother's academy, the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, in early 2017.

McEnroe helped Stanford University, as team captain, win the NCAA team championship in 1986 and 1988. He graduated from Stanford in 1988 with a degree in political science.

"I absolutely follow college tennis," beamed McEnroe on a recent visit to Atlanta, promoting the 2017 BB&T Atlanta Open and the upcoming summer U.S. Open Series.

Patrick talked about college tennis leading up to the 2017 NCAA DI Championships in Athens, Ga.


Questions and Answers

Rick Limpert (RL): Patrick, for a while it seemed like you were the only player on the ATP World Tour with a 4-year college diploma on your wall.

Patrick McEnroe (PM): That was somewhat true. It's amazing; I did get one at Stanford. There was a guy, Paul Haarhuis, from The Netherlands that played in junior college and then at Florida State. He had a great career and a college degree. There weren't many. There were a few that went to college, but they left early - before earning a degree.


RL: There are a few more now ...

McEnroe was one of few pro tennis players with a college degree
courtesy, Rick Limpert
PM: In the last 20 years, there were fewer and fewer; but it's good to see today that two of our top Americans in John Isner and Steve Johnson have had amazing college careers. Now there are some other players starting to come through, and let's be honest, it's getting tougher to make it on the pro tour, especially in the teenage years.

It's great these players have the "college arena" to develop in a team atmosphere with great coaches, great facilities and excellent competition.


RL: Are players realizing that it's tougher and tougher out on tour?

PM: On the pro tour, you are out there on your own. You could be out there at 16, paying your own bills, unless you are lucky enough to have a sponsor or a federation. It's a different type of education out there, but sometimes that is better.

American players have a choice. Look at Jack Sock; he's now very successful, and he could've gone to college. If you can make that case where you are already successful and are going to make a lot of money, it's a good call to go pro. It's an individual decision. If you aren't a "lock" to make it in the pros, college is the way to go.

Also, the level of college tennis is coming back, and it's stronger. These college players, if they progress, play some pro events, and don't start from scratch, they can be professional players.


RL: What about the level of coaching in college tennis?

PM: The coaching is excellent. I think it's a case of navigating how much the players can practice with the rules in place. Then, it's getting players out to practice on their own. Put in the hours necessary; because when you turn pro, you eat, sleep and breathe tennis.

There are plenty of good coaches. Many guys I played against and with are great coaches. There is tremendous support for the kids.


RL: Are we getting the best and the right athletes into the sport of tennis?

PM: (This is) always going to be a challenge, but when I started really getting into it, this is not currently as big a challenge as the media makes it out to be. Jack Sock is, for one, a tremendous athlete. Look at Frances Tiafoe - (he) could've probably been a safety or cornerback in the NFL.

Saying we don't get the athletes is a weak excuse. There are plenty of kids who are good athletes that play tennis, but tennis is a skills-induced sport. You need the skills early to develop as an athlete and player. You need to have the whole package to get to the top.

We are now pushing kids earlier and in the right environments. That can be a good thing. What we are doing is getting the USTA to work with the private environment, and that appears to be working. Our better kids are pushing each other; coaches are pushing each other, and college tennis plays a big (role) in this.


RL: What about the decision to move some future NCAA Tennis Championships off college campus environments and to the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona?

McEnroe believes college tennis is the proper choice for most players aspiring to turn professional
courtesy, Rick Limpert
PM: To be honest, Athens, Ga. is amazing. I was lucky enough to play there. There were some other universities and college campuses that weren't amazing. I think the jury is still out.

I went to the USTA National Campus this spring to see and broadcast a couple college matches, and it was awesome! Obviously, one was Florida vs. Florida State, and that had a great atmosphere, but they need to make sure they can get that environment and fans from the universities to go down there. It's a great tourist destination, an ideal facility, and I think it has to be worth a shot to do it. I think fans from universities will show up and make it an event. Let's also be honest; going to some universities where the local school is eliminated before the quarterfinals, they didn't have a lot of energy. This is a good risk worth taking.


RL: This year, action is back to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex at the University of Georgia.

PM: I was lucky enough - or maybe unlucky enough - to play Georgia, at the University of Georgia. That was an amazing atmosphere. It was one of the greatest experiences of my tennis career.


RL: What will coaches tell their players about playing in a hostile environment?

PM: I loved the "us against them" matches. That is also why I enjoyed going on the road for Davis Cup ties. You have people yelling and screaming at you. Coaches say to focus on the fact that this is fun - this is why you want to play. You don't want to play when nobody is watching.

Keep your cool, and use the energy around you as motivation. This is what makes college tennis so exciting. Enjoy and revel in it as an experience.

Look at Steve Johnson and John Isner. College tennis helped them become better competitors in that environment.


RL: What do you say to all the international players getting scholarships to colleges and universities in the United States?

PM: Now that I don't work for the USTA, I can be more blunt. I tell them to "deal with it." The kids need to get better. It's a bigger issue for men's tennis with fewer scholarships. Most of the women that deserve scholarships get scholarships. The ones that are really good are getting their scholarships. I know families invest a lot of time and effort, but nothing is guaranteed. It's sort of how our country is built. It helps the competitiveness of the sport.


RL: Pull out your crystal ball. Predictions for the upcoming NCAA Championships?

PM: For the men, Virginia and USC will be in there with Wake Forest. North Carolina on the women's side, but it's wide open, Florida is right there too, Ohio State is tough. Athens, Ga., is a big home court for the University of Georgia teams.


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About Rick Limpert

Rick Limpert is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. He covers sports and technology for the likes of Yahoo News and Sports and has covered tennis at all levels for almost 10 years. His website is www.ricklimpert.info and you can follow him on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

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Page updated on Thursday, May 18, 2017
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