There are several different things a 16-year-old might usually do on a snow day. Have a snowball fight with friends, sleep until noon, play video games for hours on end.
For Junior Tennis Champion’s Center man-of-the-moment, though, his snow day involved playing tennis with some of the game’s greatest champions at one of the world’s greatest arenas.
Last Monday, JTCC’s recent Orange Bowl International Champion Tiafoe was afforded the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the game’s elite, meeting and playing alongside the likes of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, John and Patrick McEnroe, and the Bryan Brothers for the BNP Paribas Showdown, a one night celebration of World Tennis Day at the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The event, the seventh annual Showdown in New York and second year as part of World Tennis Day, involved exhibition matches between the world’s best players. World No. 2 Novak Djokovic faced off against No. 6 Andy Murray while No. 1 doubles team Bob & Mike Bryan played legendary brothers John & Patrick McEnroe.
The event usually tries to showcase the next generation of tennis stars. Enter Francis, with an opening exhibition match against fellow 16-year-old American, Reilly Opelka, of Palm Coast, FL.
For two juniors seeking to become professionals someday, Monday was a lesson that tennis is only a small part of a player’s duties at a high-profile event. First comes the press conference.
Set at the JW Marriott Essex House Hotel near Central Park, the conference featured announcements from the International Tennis Hall of Fame as well as appearances from all of the event’s stars.
While most questions were about the players’ current training and thoughts about upcoming tournaments, a moment was spared for the junior celebrities in the house. Asked about what it means to have Francis and Reilly playing the event, ESPN commentator and USTA General Manager of Player Development Patrick McEnroe responded by praising Francis’ recent Orange Bowl success and saying today “will be a great experience for them, I’m sure.”
With the press conference over, it was on to the famed Madison Square Garden to see where some of sport’s biggest stars have called home. While these locker rooms have seen the likes of Willis Reed, Mark Messier, and Patrick Ewing prepare for their moments in the New York spotlight, it was now time for a 16-year-old junior tennis champion to prepare for his own moment.
To warm up for his big night on the court, Francis did what any average teenage tennis player would dream to do on World Tennis Day: hit with one of the greatest players that American tennis has ever seen, John McEnroe.
Alongside Francis and McEnroe were John’s playing partner, brother Patrick, and Reilly. Patrick McEnroe later tweeted about this moment, writing it was a good way for him to warm up for the night:
“@TheJTCC: Best way 4 16-year-old 2 celebrate @WorldTennisDay? Warm up w/ John & @PatrickMcEnroe @TheGarden! pic.twitter.com/7MXnJB3CUJ” & 4 me2
— Patrick McEnroe (@PatrickMcEnroe) March 4, 2014
All warmed up, it was time for the big moment. Time to play at Madison Square Garden.
When asked later if he felt nervous at the legendary venue, Francis said, “Yeah, when I first walked out today. Going into the match, I didn’t know to expect.” While others his age might be fighting nerves to be onstage at the school play, Francis was walking out with his face on the same jumbotron that has featured the world’s biggest entertainers.
After a day of festivities and honors, the match was almost an afterthought. Reilly and Francis played a one set exhibition match, first to 5. With a late break, Francis won the match 5-3.
In the evening’s other matches, the Bryan Brothers overcame the McEnroes 8-3 and Djokovic beat his old foe Murray 6-3, 7-6.
On a day celebrating the game of tennis, though, wins and loses were meaningless. The world’s best had played in one of the world’s most famous sporting venues, promoting the game we all love, and a 16-year-old junior champion was there to see it all.
Not a bad way to spend a snow day.