| By Brian Coleman
MatchPoint co-founders Dmitry Druzhinsky (left) and Nino Muhatasov (right) with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Leroy Adams

 

Nearly 30 years ago, Nino Muhatasov came to the United States from Ukraine, a former Soviet Union Republic, where he was a member of the country’s National Team as a junior.

Muhatasov arrived in Coney Island, the Southernmost part of Brooklyn which has a large Russian-speaking population. Muhatasov, along with other players Max Mirnyi, Vladimir Volchkov and Tatiana Poutchek, competed in top-level junior tournaments in America to pursue their dream of turning Pro. They trained at the Brooklyn Racquet Club under the supervision of Alex Demidenko and Sergey Leonyuk before moving on to the next step in their respective careers.

He would go on to enjoy a fantastic career for St. John’s, primarily playing in the first singles spot and serving as team captain. After graduating, Muhatasov remained at St. John’s and earned his Master’s Degree in Business Administration.

“I ended up staying and getting recruited to play at St. John’s University,” Muhatasov recalls. “In my four years at St. John’s, we went to the Big East Conference Finals in 1995 and I was named Most Valuable Player in 1995 and 1997.”

“Even though I had job offers in the business world, I decided to pursue a coaching career right after college to see where it would take me,” he said. “I told myself I could always return to the business world if tennis coaching doesn’t work out.”

A few years later, Muhatasov became the Director of Tennis at Hempstead Lake Indoor Club on Long Island, and developed a very successful junior development program, which guided many of his students to win Super National titles.


From left to right: Former world number one Dinara Safina, two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin, and MatchPoint co-founders Nino Muhatasov and Dmitry Druzhinsky

 

He continued to climb the coaching ladder and, in 2007, signed a contract to coach Alona Bondarenko, a fellow Ukrainian who was competing on the WTA Tour. From 2007 to 2008, Muhatasov traveled with Bondarenko as she climbed into the Top 20 in WTA Singles ranking and captured a Doubles Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

With his business education and wealth of coaching experience, the final step in Muhatasov’s plan was to build and run his own club. He came up with a business plan and partnered with New York City developer and a friend of his, Dmitry Druzhinsky. Together, they began searching for an ideal spot to open up their own facility.

“After coaching high performance juniors, and then on the WTA Pro Tour, I decided it was time to build a club and run it the right way, while implementing my vision of a community destination,” he said. “And that’s how the idea of starting a club came about.”

Coincidentally, the Brooklyn Racquet Club’s land became available in 2010, so Muhatasov and Druzhinsky successfully secured the land that they would use to build a multi-sport facility.

After a long process working with many of the city’s agencies, the first MatchPoint NYC facility opened up on Shell Road in Coney Island in January 2014. It stands on the same plot of land that Muhatasov first played on when he arrived in the United States.

“Once I understood that tennis is my passion, I set a goal for myself to coach at the highest level and then move into a different part of the tennis business,” said Muhatasov. “I always had that goal. I just couldn't imagine building a brand-new club where everything started for me in America.”

It was Muhatasov and Druzhinsky’s vision to build a facility that housed multiple sports and contained a family-like atmosphere.

“Our idea from the beginning was to make sure we weren’t just a tennis club,” he said. “After the experience of running one, I realized I wanted mine to resemble an indoor country club, where the kids can come after school, play sports, hang out, do their homework, eat healthy food, and become a place where they grow up. I didn’t want it to be a place where they come, take a lesson and leave.”

Soon after the first MatchPoint NYC facility opened up, a second club was launched in Mill Basin. It originally had six tennis courts and a spacious gym with bay views. A decision was made to put in a soccer field over two of the courts and add a restaurant area, to create more of a family-like atmosphere. The MatchPoint NYC facilities offer tennis, rhythmic gymnastics, swimming, soccer and, most recently, added fencing to its offerings. At the end of 2019, the MatchPoint NYC brand spread to a third facility, this time in Bensonhurst.

“The original club in Bensonhurst was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy nearly seven years ago. When we won the concession from the city to rebuild it, we knew that we would stay true to our motto of building multi-sports facilities.” said Muhatasov. “The brand-new club offers tennis, soccer, fencing, plus an indoor/outdoor restaurant.” The Bensonhurst project was completed in partnership with New York City Parks, and while MatchPoint NYC is a private club, during the spring and summer months the courts will be available to any person with a New York City parks permit.


Muhatasov and Druzhinsky along with Assemblyman Steve H. Cymbrowitz (center), who represents New York’s 45th district which consists of Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, Midwood and other Brooklyn area​

 

“We are hoping to grow and diversify the game of tennis in New York,” said Muhatasov. “We will be running programs for underprivileged kids, and giving more opportunities to those who may not otherwise be able to afford to play tennis.”

Each of the three MatchPoint NYC clubs operates within the MatchPoint NYC philosophy, which Muhatasov explains: “While the goals of all parents and kids are different, I believe there is a common denominator among all of them, and that is for all kids to reach their full potential. Some parents and kids want to play at a high level and go to college, or even turn professional. Others want to play just to have fun and learn a new sport. Our goals when creating these facilities were to provide individual attention to each participating child to help them become their best self. We want kids to stay off the streets and their phones as much as possible. We want to be sure kids are communicating with each other, and sports are a great way for them to be able to meet new people and make new friends.”

Over the last five years, the MatchPoint NYC brand has helped create opportunities for a lot of aspiring athletes throughout Brooklyn, and the greater New York City area. That is just what Muhatasov envisioned when he decided to go down this path. He used his vast experience as a player, coach, and businessman to foster a culture that puts the customers first. That is evident when you visit one of his facilities and see how he interacts with the members there.

“We have thousands of kids, but I make sure I’m visible and each one of them knows that I’m here to talk if they need to,” he said. “Even though we’ve become bigger and bigger, I don’t want to lose the family atmosphere that we’ve created. I want to make sure the kids and parents know that my door is always open.”

MatchPoint NYC is not finished growing. In fact, they are in negotiations to potentially open up clubs in Kiev, the hometown of Muhatasov and Druzhinsky, and even in Moscow. They will continue to look for new ways to use tennis, and sports in general, to make a positive impact across New York. 

Since its inception, MatchPoint NYC has grown into three locations across Brooklyn. It has plans to continue growing over the next several years, including aspiring projects in Kiev and Moscow

 

Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com