PDA

View Full Version : 12-Year-Old Girl May Embody McEnroe’s Vision for U.S. Tennis


pov
Mar 8th, 2011, 12:17 AM
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/sports/tennis/08mcenroe.html
12-Year-Old Girl May Embody McEnroe’s Vision for U.S. Tennis
By HARVEY ARATON

For John McEnroe, a man of impassioned and instantly expressed emotions, hitting with Ingrid Neel was almost a case of love at first tennis stroke.

To introduce herself, Ingrid drew him to the net with a deft drop volley. Then she dared to lob the great Johnny Mac, lofting the ball inches from the baseline.

O.K., McEnroe thought, so this is how you want to play with a four-time United States Open and three-time Wimbledon champion? He retaliated with a drop-shot winner of his own, stepped toward the net, pointed a finger at his audacious new adversary and gave her a look that said, “You cannot be serious!”

But McEnroe could plainly see that, yes, absolutely she was.

“The way she played, the look in her eye, made me think that maybe it was the 2011 version of what I would look like now, only a girl,” he said.

A 12-year-old girl with freckled cheeks, standing short of 5 feet and weighing less than 100 pounds. But McEnroe, now 52 and in the business of discovering and developing future American stars, was smitten.

“I said, ‘O.K., that girl is the real deal, someone I would like to work with,’ ” he said.

This was last October, and McEnroe was getting ahead of himself. Ingrid had come from Rochester, Minn., to his academy at the Sportime club on Randalls Island, which was created last year with the goal of developing tennis players in his unorthodox image.

McEnroe believes that Florida’s live-in tennis academies have created an assembly-line sameness to America’s young players and have contributed to the country’s inability to produce big winners on the men’s and women’s professional tours.

In starting the academy, he envisioned talented boys and girls from not only the New York metropolitan area but also from around the country and even abroad coming with their families to “the most stimulating city in the world” to lead normal lives while learning to embrace their individuality and creativity in a sport that demands it at the very highest levels.

Thus far, McEnroe’s academy has mainly attracted New York-area players. Even Ingrid Neel has a local connection. Her mother, Hildy, grew up on Long Island, a McEnroe fan and trained for college tennis (at Long Island University) at the Port Washington Tennis Academy years after the young McEnroe’s time there. One of her instructors was Claude Okin, the managing partner of Sportime New York, which teamed with McEnroe to create a stay-at-home urban alternative to Florida’s live-in tennis academies.

After reading about their initiative, Hildy Neel contacted Okin, offering Ingrid’s truncated biography: took up tennis at 6; progressed quickly to the point where she was too good for girls her age; is ranked first in her section in the 18-and-under group; and recently created a stir in upper Midwest tennis circles by announcing she would compete this year against boys.

“John was such the quintessential New Yorker and a tennis genius,” Hildy Neel said. “I thought that there was the potential that he and Ingrid would connect.”

If being a natural iconoclast was not enough to make Ingrid Neel the dream McEnroe student, there was also the flattering disclosure that she had patterned her approach to the game after his. In an era of determined baseline slugging, Neel watched McEnroe on video and was fascinated by his knack for taking the ball on the rise, his attacking style and his contortionist’s ability to hit volleys and half-volleys of all angles.

“I always laugh when he’s approaching because he does this little hop,” she said. “But I loved the way he played because my favorite part of tennis is coming to the net. When I go to Florida and other places to play and I come in, a lot of my opponents don’t expect that because they never see it.”

Hildy Neel said Ingrid — who, unlike McEnroe, is right-handed — was never instructed to move forward.

“How you play tennis is a reflection of your personality,” Hildy Neel said. “That’s what she would do when she was little — hit and move in. She would always play in no man’s land, and her coach would never say, ‘Back off.’ That takes a certain attitude, and that’s what she and John seem to share.”

After hitting it off with McEnroe, Ingrid had a recent encore visit, accompanied by her mother and her coach, Brian Christensen. Over several days, she participated in a variety of academy programs — directed by Gilad Bloom, a former pro tour player from Israel — and attended the night of renewed rivalries at Madison Square Garden that pitted McEnroe against Ivan Lendl.

Much to his disgust, McEnroe retired with an injury from the pro set while ahead, affirming the still depressing notion that athletic glory will from here on be achieved vicariously, hopefully with someone like the young and precocious Ingrid as his protégée.

“It would be ironic if I coached a girl to be the best, or one of the best, whatever,” he said.

Attracting sponsors (beyond Nike) to underwrite his academy has been a problem thus far, but there has been no shortage of local parents willing to have the ever-irascible McEnroe lecture their offspring about their critical first step toward the ball.

Last summer, McEnroe and his staff awarded full and part-time scholarships from a field of several hundred players attending an open tryout. One of the beneficiaries, Sabrina Xiong of Queens, the 12-year-old daughter of Chinese immigrants, recently won a sectional tournament.

Yet McEnroe knows that his academy will pose no threat to the brand names of tennis instruction — the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. and the United States Tennis Association programs run by his brother Patrick — until it lands its share of the most gifted and talented players like Neel.

“We have an overqualified staff right now, no question,” McEnroe said. “I guess I have to look at this as a longer-term thing, find the kids who want to come here, whose families agree with my concept, if you want to call it that.”

McEnroe’s belief is that the American system has churned out baseline huggers overdosing on topspin. He said that they play too much tennis when they would be better off working harder in shorter periods of time and developing other interests, including different sports.

Likewise, Hildy Neel prefers that Ingrid’s life, at this stage, not be dominated by tennis. Although Ingrid has won national and international tournaments, she plays ice hockey and piano while attending a Rochester middle school.

Hildy Neel said the family focus had been less on building a national ranking and more on allowing Ingrid to experiment tactically — especially given the likelihood that she has a fair amount of growing to do. Hildy Neel is almost 5 feet 8 inches and her husband, Bryan, is 6-0.

“I really believe that until you pass puberty you can’t overtrain,” Hildy Neel said. “It does more harm than good. But living in Minnesota, where the competition is not cutthroat, Ingrid was good enough to be endorsed for national events without having to only play a baseline game.”

During one of Ingrid’s recent sessions with Bloom, McEnroe arrived to have another look and noticed a man sitting by the side of the court.

“Are you the father?” he asked.

Christensen stood up and said, “I’m the coach.”

McEnroe offered a hand and said: “Good job, man. She’s beautiful to watch.”

Christensen, 50, masked his excitement over meeting the man whose poster from his 2002 autobiography, “You Cannot Be Serious,” hangs in his basement.

“We kind of modeled her after you,” Christensen said.

“Well,” McEnroe said with a crooked smile, “now I know why you did such a good job.”

It all sounded like the beginning of happily-ever-after, but it wasn’t, not yet. Hildy Neel said that although she had family in New York, moving to such an expensive city would present financial challenges to continue the comfortable lifestyle the Neels have in Minnesota.

In addition, they have spent time at the Bollettieri academy, leaving Hildy Neel with the impression that her family “could live off the grounds and still have a normal life.”

But what McEnroe is offering is living large — in New York as well as at the net.

“They work at the net more than any other program,” Hildy Neel said. “We came back to develop a little bit more of a relationship with Gilad and John and to figure out if we did decide to come to New York what this would look like.

“We do have time to make a decision, but we are going to have to make one, probably within two years. Ingrid is running out of competition in Minnesota.”

McEnroe would argue that there is no more competitive and stimulating a place than New York. And that if Ingrid can make it through a session with him, she can make it anywhere.

zhengjieforever
Mar 8th, 2011, 12:22 AM
i got to the part about her being shorter than 5 feet.... :eek: that isn't good. and don't girls stop growing by like 15? she's going to need a good growth spurt. making it in the wta at 5'4" is hard enough. any shorter than that and you'd better be really really speedy or something

wildemu
Mar 8th, 2011, 12:46 AM
mcenroe is stubborn and naive. The only reason why we have "factories" in florida, texas, and california is because they are the only places in this country that can properly build a player up endurance-wise to compete on the tour.

Not only is this girl short like miss jie points out, but she is practicing in minnesota and new york. She would get her ass kicked by seasoned girls who have been training in 90+ degree weather all year round.

Sp!ffy
Mar 8th, 2011, 01:27 AM
The U.S. is in such a dry spell of talent that they're willing to hype up any junior that can hit a few winners.

I'll believe the hype when I see real results..

starr
Mar 8th, 2011, 01:51 AM
Girls grow at different rates just like boys. I grew very slowly and gained height even in college. I wasn't 5 feet tall at age 12 for sure. I was 5'4" at 14 and finished at 5' 7" That's short for tennis today, but I'm just saying that you have to look at other factors. The family's height is important as is the nutrition the girl got as an infant and child.

Freakan
Mar 8th, 2011, 01:52 AM
Yeah right :lol:
This girl played many tournaments and based at this stage there's nothing indicating than she can achieve more than college success.
At least she's already more successful than Alexus Jones :yeah:

starin
Mar 8th, 2011, 02:32 AM
Girls usually finish growing at around 16-17 but there are always exceptions. Sharapova shot up like 2 inches at 19. But unless she reaches at least 5'5" she'll have real trouble making a big impact on tour.

King Halep
Mar 8th, 2011, 02:52 AM
i got to the part about her being shorter than 5 feet.... :eek: that isn't good. and don't girls stop growing by like 15? she's going to need a good growth spurt. making it in the wta at 5'4" is hard enough. any shorter than that and you'd better be really really speedy or something

maybe you should keep reading to the part about her mother being 5 feet 8 inches

Tennis Ball
Mar 8th, 2011, 10:45 AM
Nice read, thanks!

Sean.
Mar 8th, 2011, 11:31 AM
Is expected the to be another thread about Deja! :lol:

The Witch-king
Mar 8th, 2011, 12:28 PM
i got to the part about her being shorter than 5 feet.... :eek: that isn't good. and don't girls stop growing by like 15? she's going to need a good growth spurt. making it in the wta at 5'4" is hard enough. any shorter than that and you'd better be really really speedy or something

I got to McEnroe and I stopped reading :lol:

Sp!ffy
Mar 8th, 2011, 12:31 PM
I got to McEnroe and I stopped reading :lol:

Ignorant :lol:

Mightymirza
Mar 8th, 2011, 01:08 PM
mcenroe is stubborn and naive. The only reason why we have "factories" in florida, texas, and california is because they are the only places in this country that can properly build a player up endurance-wise to compete on the tour.

Not only is this girl short like miss jie points out, but she is practicing in minnesota and new york. She would get her ass kicked by seasoned girls who have been training in 90+ degree weather all year round.

Hey a lot of european girls seem to be doing quite well despite of growing up playing in Moscow/ Switzerland/ france etc.. If they r dedicated and talented enough they can do just fine.. :shrug:

pov
Mar 8th, 2011, 04:08 PM
Nice read, thanks!
You're welcome.

As one amused by the tired, cookie-cutter Florida academy tennis, I'm glad to see someone implementing a different approach.

Kipling
Mar 8th, 2011, 04:23 PM
Yeah, her parents are 5'8 and 6'. There's a good liklihood she'll wind up in that range by the time she's through growing. The thing that's impressive is that she has a game that's unique, adapatable, and she seems like a pretty brainy player. The physical part can come later. She'll be interesting to keep track of.

perseus2006
Mar 8th, 2011, 05:17 PM
Old John McEnroe must have been ecstatic that he could drop shot the 12 YO girl. I bet he nearly pulled a shoulder muscle glad handing himself about that; bragging rights at the bar. He'll be regaling us with "war stories" this year during his match commentary about how he single handedly destroyed the "best" the girls could offer...

JMac was a reasonably good player but that's it. He was obnoxious, petty, mired in self aggrandizing drama, his own best fan and the sport's most illustrious misogynist. He has brought all these attributes to his tennis commentary. He remains the worst role model in tennis history despite Serenka's efforts to dislodge him.

All of that lead-in just to say: I wouldn't let JMac anywhere near my 12 year old girl!

The Witch-king
Mar 8th, 2011, 06:05 PM
Ignorant :lol:

I don't know who gave you the impression that stalking people is cute and why they did it cuz it's not

King Halep
Mar 8th, 2011, 07:41 PM
Funny thing is he is virtually setting up this academy in opposition to his brother, who apparently refused to recognise it under the USTA. More motivation for John to succeed.

Martian KC
Mar 8th, 2011, 08:00 PM
Ugh, too much to read. Someone just tell me how she plays?

GAGAlady
Mar 8th, 2011, 08:09 PM
well she is still quite young...so will see how things work out

Sund7101
Mar 9th, 2011, 12:54 AM
Ugh, too much to read. Someone just tell me how she plays?

She is an intelligent player who likes to hug the baseline and mix up the play with various spins, drop shots, trips to the net, and angles. I think you would like her game. If I had to compare her game to any pro player it would be Hingis.

I hope that she can continue to rise. It would be great to have a good female tennis player come out of Minnesota. We've had a great male player--David Wheaton.

Sp!ffy
Mar 9th, 2011, 04:47 AM
I don't know who gave you the impression that stalking people is cute and why they did it cuz it's not

I don't stalk you. I just see your stupid posts scattered throughout this forum.

Smitten
Mar 9th, 2011, 03:54 PM
The U.S. is in such a dry spell of talent that they're willing to hype up any junior that can hit a few winners.

I'll believe the hype when I see real results..

Basically.

lizchris
Mar 9th, 2011, 05:29 PM
The U.S. is in such a dry spell of talent that they're willing to hype up any junior that can hit a few winners.

I'll believe the hype when I see real results..

In 1990, the New York Times ran an article on its front page about a young 10 year old tennis progidy from Compton, CA who the writer (the mother of a future professional player who was the same age as the girl in the article) said would win Wimbledon in about 10 years. I don't have to provide the names for you to know who I am talking about so if she is getting front page attentition now, then she must be really talented.

neorules
Mar 10th, 2011, 04:49 AM
"I hope that she can continue to rise. It would be great to have a good female tennis player come out of Minnesota. We've had a great male player--David Wheaton." What about Ginger Helgeson from St. Cloud and Bethanie Mattek Sands who was born in Rochester.

neorules
Mar 10th, 2011, 04:51 AM
"I hope that she can continue to rise. It would be great to have a good female tennis player come out of Minnesota. We've had a great male player--David Wheaton." What about Ginger Helgeson from St. Cloud and Bethanie Mattek Sands who was born in Rochester.</p>

PMBH
Mar 10th, 2011, 05:30 AM
In 1990, the New York Times ran an article on its front page about a young 10 year old tennis progidy from Compton, CA who the writer (the mother of a future professional player who was the same age as the girl in the article) said would win Wimbledon in about 10 years. I don't have to provide the names for you to know who I am talking about so if she is getting front page attentition now, then she must be really talented.

Well, even I can guess who the 10 year old prodigy from Compton is. But who's the player with the writer mum from NY Times?

HRHoliviasmith
Mar 10th, 2011, 06:23 AM
Well, even I can guess who the 10 year old prodigy from Compton is. But who's the player with the writer mum for NY Times?

alexandra stevenson?

harloo
Mar 10th, 2011, 06:29 AM
Haven't we heard these prodigy stories before? A retired and out of shape tennis player hits with a young hopeful and all of the sudden the player is destined to be a future champion. The problem is it takes more than just skill to become one of the elites. You need mental fortitude, fearlessness in tight situations, and knowledge on how to play the big points.

Sund7101
Mar 10th, 2011, 01:25 PM
"I hope that she can continue to rise. It would be great to have a good female tennis player come out of Minnesota. We've had a great male player--David Wheaton." What about Ginger Helgeson from St. Cloud and Bethanie Mattek Sands who was born in Rochester.</p>

I know Bethanie was born in Rochester, but I don't think of her as a Minnesotan. I'd never heard of Ginger Helgeson, but that just shows my age. I looked her up and she was a good player. Hopefully Ingrid can have similar success.

shell
Mar 10th, 2011, 02:06 PM
I think the whole point of this article is less about this specific girl, and more about a philosophy of teaching that allows for development of the player as a person and a game style that may not reap immediate results. Isn't this what everybody is whining about now - early burn out and cookie cutter games that peak by the time a player is about 18? Wouldn't it be nice to see a player allowed to develop a nice all court game without the pressure to conform/win immediately?

lizchris
Mar 10th, 2011, 06:22 PM
alexandra stevenson?
Yes. Her mother is former New York Times freelance sports writer Samantha Stevenson.

pov
Mar 10th, 2011, 06:26 PM
I think the whole point of this article is less about this specific girl, and more about a philosophy of teaching that allows for development of the player as a person and a game style that may not reap immediate results. Isn't this what everybody is whining about now - early burn out and cookie cutter games that peak by the time a player is about 18? Wouldn't it be nice to see a player allowed to develop a nice all court game without the pressure to conform/win immediately?
Thank you for really reading and understanding the article. :yeah:

matty
Mar 10th, 2011, 08:52 PM
Mac might not agree with the Florida system of pumping out all these clones, but this kid has something in common with the Florida kids--it took money to get her where she is today (even at age 12). No way you get that good without playing day in and day out and paying big ($) for private coaching (our club's pros charge $50.00/hr and that's probably cheap compared to other parts of the US)--the only exception would be if the parent(s) are good players and are coaching her. I'll bet her parents spend thousands of dollars a year on her training and traveling. Tennis is a rich kids sport. There are exceptions, but more often than not--kids need to go to academies and pay big bucks to get really good.

matty
Mar 10th, 2011, 08:56 PM
Oh, and another thing--if the US wants to create some more champions, they need to try to get tennis in the school system at a younger age. Offer it in 4th grade like they do with other sports in the US. Age 9 is kind of late to start, but Jankovic started at 9 and Vanderwege at age 11. Until tennis regains some sort of popularity in the US I don't see any Williams', Sampras, Agassis, Roddicks, etc. in the future.

Our public school system is continually being defunded, so I don't see them putting in courts, but they could do Quick Start tennis or something.

neorules
Mar 11th, 2011, 02:33 PM
Good points Matty--- lets add a 1 foreign player per college team rule. That would give more opportunities to developing US players.Also the USTA typically disconnects from the coaching that helped a player to become good. They have a &quot;We'll take it from here attitude&quot; which does not serve the player well with continuity of game philosopy and development.