World number one Novak Djokovic recently headlined a charity event benefiting the Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP), raising funds to give more children in the metropolitan area an opportunity to play tennis through scholarships and other financial assistance. The event, hosted by John McEnroe at his John McEnroe Tennis Academy at Sportime on Randall’s Island, included exhibitions between current and future professionals, along with a celebrity doubles match to cap off an exciting evening.
To kick off the festivities was a fun women’s singles set between current world number 15 Lucie Safarova and University of North Carolina and JMTA’s own Jamie Loeb, who spent much of her NCAA season as the top-ranked player in the country. In front of a nice crowd at Sportime Stadium, former home of the disbanded New York Sportimes of World TeamTennis, the current and future of the WTA Tour entertained a nice crowd in a 6-3 Safarova win.
The next match featured two Wimbledon champions, with this year’s men’s and boys titlists taking to Sportime’s center court. Djokovic squared off with another JMTA product, local Noah Rubin, in an eight-game pro set. McEnroe, however, had other plans for his pupil, Rubin.
“I’m instructing Novak if he so desires or feels like it, to go out there and … you know … give him a little taste of reality,” McEnroe said.
The duo enthralled the crowd deep into the night, with long rallies, and the speedster from Long Island even pulling off a “tweener” against the top player in the world. After an early break by the Serbian superstar, Rubin held his own in a tight affair, eventually succumbing in the lighthearted 8-5 pro-set.
The proceeds from the event were added to with an auction before the final match of the evening. As all of the night’s guests and players took the court, fans and spectators raised their hands to bid on exciting experiences, from U.S. Open packages, to tickets to the New York Rangers with McEnroe himself. Even media personality Sean Hannity got in on the bidding, winning one of three $10,000 Rangers packages to benefit the JMTP.
Just as fans thought the night of entertainment was coming to an end, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and actor Edward Norton took the court with McEnroe and Djokovic respectively, surprising the crowd with their level of play, one which fans may not expect of a celebrity or a professional of another sport.
As fun of a match it was, everybody involved showed signs of seriousness at certain points, with guest umpire Mike Lupica lucky to escape McEnroe’s always-entertaining antics. At three games apiece, after many rallies in which the pros showed no qualms about testing Norton and Lundqvist’s skills, it was decided that a 10-point tie-breaker would decide the match and call it an evening. With the home court advantage in their pocket, McEnroe & Lundqvist took the point and the match by a final score of 4-3.
“I love the game,” Lundqvist said. “It’s great to see Novak come out here and help Mac and his foundation.”
Djokovic was glad to help the cause as well, before he begins his quest for another Grand Slam title this week in Flushing Meadows at the U.S. Open.
“I’m grateful, and I’m really happy that I’m able to contribute in my own way to more awareness of tennis in New York and the community,” Djokovic said in a pre-event press conference.
Rubin, who qualified for the main draw at the U.S. Open, will be playing his first round match against Argentinian Federico DelBonis, Tuesday, Aug. 26 on Court 13.
Credit all photos to Calvin Rhoden
John McEnroe and Novak Djokovic field questions during the pre-match press conference
University of North Carolina and JMTA’s own Jamie Loeb takes on Lucie Safarova during an exhibition at Sportime Randall's Island
World number one Novak Djokovic gives a big thumbs up to the Sportime Randall's Island crowd
World number 15 Lucie Safarova was a 6-3 winner over Jamie Loeb
Wimbledon 2014 Boy's Champion Noah Rubin fell to Novak Djokovic
World number one Novak Djokovic lives up the crowd at Sportime Stadium at Randall's Island
Guest umpire Sean Hannity enjoying an evening of tennis for a good cause
New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist talks strategy with his doubles partner John McEnroe
Actor Ed Norton teamed up with Novak Djokovic to face the duo of McEnroe & Lundqvist