John McEnroe has encouraged young tennis players who want to emulate Carlos Alcaraz to go to college first because the Spaniard is “one in a billion”. The world No. 2 will make his ATP Tour Finals debut next week when the season-ending tournament gets underway in Turin.
Alcaraz landed the second major of his embryotic career when he beat Novak Djokovic in this year’s Wimbledon final – a triumph that took the 20-year-old to the top of the world rankings before it was retaken by his rival in September.
But while Alcaraz’s rise to the top was nurtured at Juan Carlos Ferrero’s Equelite JC Ferrero Sport Academy in Spain, all-time great McEnroe is urging the next crop of would-be tennis stars to take a different path and experience the benefits of college life before going all in on tennis.
Speaking on the SmartLess podcast, as per The Tennis Letter, McEnroe said: “I grew up in Queens. The best thing that ever happened to me was not going to a Nick Bollettieri-style camp.
“I would’ve quit the game at 16 or 17. I love to play other sports. All studies show, both physically and mentally, it’s healthier for kids to play other sports. Tennis players are peaking later than they ever did.
“I think college is an experience that not only do you get to play as a team potentially if you’re in a sport, but you get to grow up a little bit and also have some fun before you work your way into a profession and you’ll be more prepared to handle it.
“So I completely disagree with what academies do most often. For every person you hear that succeeds, there’s a million that don’t. Not everyone’s Carlos Alcaraz, he’s one in a billion. He’s just a freak. He’s an incredible player, but most kids have no business doing that.”
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Tennis ‘boarding schools’ such as the academies run by Bollettieri and Rick Macci blooded fully-blown stars like Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and both Serena and Venus Williams. But McEnroe believes that the college system and all the benefits that it brings is the way to go for the majority of today’s young players.
Murcia-born Alcaraz has been drawn in a group with US Open finalists Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Alexander Zverev at the ATP Finals in Turin.
Djokovic, who is looking to win the title for a record-breaking seventh time, is in a group with Jannik Sinner, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Holger Rune.
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