View Full Version : U.S. women's future in tennis looks thin

Mar 31st, 2005, 10:22 PM
U.S. women's future in tennis looks thin

By Douglas Robson, Special for USA TODAY

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. Serena and Venus Williams have captured the prestigious Nasdaq-100 Open for four consecutive years and six of the last seven.
But rather than underscoring the strength of women's tennis in this country, it masks an alarming trend: the lack of young American talent moving up the female ranks behind them.

The Williamses, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Chanda Rubin all cracked the top 20 as teenagers in the 1990s.

Today, no American woman younger than 20 has a place in the top 100, and only three rank in the top 270, with 18-year-old Jamea Jackson of Atlanta the highest at No. 113. More ominous, there is not a future Grand Slam tournament winner in sight.

By comparison, there are nine teens in the top 50, led by Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova of Russia at No. 3.

"It's pretty clear when you look at the rankings that there are gaps with the top U.S. players and others below them," said Jean Nachand, director of women's tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association.

What's happened to the next generation of female stars?
The reasons are complicated. According to 23-year-old Serena, U.S. teens want immediate gratification, are too distracted by the glare of celebrity and aren't as hungry as the legions of Russians, Chinese and Eastern Europeans clogging the WTA Tour.

"Everyone's interested in becoming a pop star," the three-time defending Nasdaq-100 champ said this week. "I think in some of these different countries they have different obstacles that maybe we don't have, unless you're from the urban area."

Tennis also has lost ground to other sports, a result of Title IX legislation, which has encouraged young girls to pursue everything from soccer to ice hockey in the hopes of earning college scholarships. Others say the decline can be traced to the social and financial aspect of girls team sports, which tend to be cheaper, more available and more likely to hook youngsters.

"In the Philadelphia area, no one is playing high school tennis anymore," lamented Pennsylvania native and tour veteran Lisa Raymond, who won two NCAA championships at the University of Florida.

Raymond said Americans have it too cushy and aren't pushing each other the way the Russians are with the top players all vying to be No. 1.

"They will kick and scream and fight their way to make it out of Moscow," she said, "whereas with the American girls, it's easier. If we don't win a tennis match, we'll go out that night and go to South Beach and hang out. Or Daddy will pay for this or that."
The spread of tennis academies across the globe has allowed players more opportunities for top-flight competition and training closer to home. For instance, 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia trains in Barcelona. Plus the advent of tennis as a medal sport in the Olympics has increased the reach and competition of the game.

Some say the lack of up-and-coming U.S. women is simply part of a cycle. Even so, throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s, one teen phenom after another continually replenished the U.S. pool, from Chris Evert to Tracy Austin to Andrea Jaeger to Davenport to, most recently, the Williams sisters. Not since Serena broke into the top 20 in 1998 has another teen done so.

The USTA's Nachand, for her part, said high-performance training centers in Carson, Calif., and Key Biscayne are helping bring more talent to the game. The USTA is working with coaches from across the country to identify talented kids ages 9-10 and bring them to the centers.

Mar 31st, 2005, 11:06 PM
Harkleroad is making a comback in a few weeks....??? Maybe we can hope.....