Marco Ward might not yet be a household name, but he's working at it.
Ward, 15, a freshman tennis player at Clover High, recently got to test his skills against one of the best ever at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in Manhattan over spring break, playing McEnroe himself.
“It’s pretty cool,” Ward said. “When I saw him I was star struck. It was crazy.”
Ward was noticed during a tournament and word got back to individuals associated with the McEnroe Tennis Academy, and Lawrence Kleger, tennis director at the facility, sent Ward an invite to come to Manhattan and meet McEnroe himself and play against him. Ward and his family drove up to New York over spring break.
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The family was up there only two days, but it was a trip of a lifetime.
“It’s really nice,” Ward said. “There was a lot of traffic.”
Ward got to play just one set with McEnroe as the hall-of-famer had previous obligations to keep and still stays pretty busy with the Academy and other business ventures, but the Ward family said they were happy that he was gracious with his time.
“John has a heart of gold,” said Sherley Ward, Marco’s father. “As one of the best players to ever play the game, taking time out of his busy schedule to give a kid less fortunate than most top juniors an opportunity is something we are truly grateful for.”
Ward admitted McEnroe beat him pretty handily in the one set they played, but McEnroe gave him some good advice.
“He told me to just keep working on my game and looked to invite us back in about eight months,” he said.
“He killed me because he still has some good strokes. I tried my best to impress him, but he wiped me off the court. It would be like playing a superstar. If it was basketball, it would be like playing LeBron (James) or (Steph) Curry. It’s crazy.”
Just a freshman, Ward, who has been playing tennis nearly his entire life, has time to develop. He started in the sport at age 2, just old enough to hold a racket. Ward has helped get the Blue Eagles into the state playoffs this season and said his two main goals in high school are to win a state title and to get a Division I college opportunity. Clemson, Georgia, Indiana, Villanova and UCLA are on his short list of hopeful destinations.
“It is a different game,” he said. “Once you get out there, tennis is an all-around game. It can be mental and it can be athletic as well.”
Tennis instructor and former pro player Tim Wilkison said Ward has a lot of potential and a bright future in the sport if he keeps working at it. Wilkison is helping Ward attract interest from colleges.
“He has a lot of potential,” Wilkison said. “He is a very good athlete. There are two types of people. Those with talent that can make something happen and grinders those that have to work at it. Marco has talent. That upside is what makes Marco interesting to a lot of people.”
Mac Banks: email@example.com, @MacBanksFM