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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 05:46 PM Thread Starter
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American Tennis

The following is a three Part report/article that I found thanks to I thought I would post it here, since I found it to be an interesting read.

What is tennis' place in America today

The epitaph was written 15 years ago, on the May 9, 1994, cover of Sports Illustrated.

Against a backdrop of red clay, the bold headline asked: "Is Tennis Dying?" A yellow tennis ball punctuated the damning rhetorical question.

"Tennis is spoiled rotten," Sally Jenkins' piece began. "If you are wondering exactly when a wonderful game became such a lousy sport, the answer is, the first time a corporate executive gave a 14-year-old a stretch limo to play with."

In retrospect, the 5,000-word story reads far more benignly than the furor it stoked within the game. It lodged a strident complaint that tennis was out of touch with its public, more than lying in a state of repose.

"I don't think any story could have hurt the sport more," said tennis analyst Pam Shriver, her voice heavy with emotion. "In those days, the SI cover was everything, and that was a huge disservice to a sport that's been around for so long and served so many parts of the population so well."

Mary Carillo, like Shriver a player-turned-broadcaster, believes the story ultimately had a positive effect.

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"The whole sport gulped," said Carillo, who counts Jenkins as a good friend and lives in an apartment one block away from her in New York. "The original reaction of the tennis world was, 'How dare they?' Then it was 'Wait a minute, there's some validity to this -- maybe the sport has lost some traction.'

"In the end, I think it did the sport a lot of good."

Jenkins, a prodigious author and a columnist for The Washington Post, sighed when the subject of the Sports Illustrated cover was broached.

"Gosh," she said, "it's been a long time now. It wasn't purely my opinion. It was based on the opinions of people like Billie Jean King and Chris Evert. There was an element of self-consciousness and embarrassment. Brad Gilbert said it was too bad an a------ like Sally Jenkins had to write it. He knew it was all true.

"One of gratifying things was that people said, 'Let's try to shore up a fading sport. It shouldn't be fading this way.'"

Anne Worcester, the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament director, became the WTA's CEO three months after the Sports Illustrated story.

"Tennis was at a crossroads, and that cover was a wake-up call," Worcester said. "The world was watching. The feeling was, 'We better get this fixed.'"

Fifteen years after that cruel, sobering stroke, with the U.S. Open approaching fast, it's an appropriate time to answer the question: Did tennis get it fixed? What is the sport's place today in America? Tennis is alive, certainly, but is it relevant?

After crunching all kinds of numbers -- from rising participation totals to television ratings to equipment sales -- and conducting dozens of interviews with people in the game, the answer is: relatively speaking, yes.

Bud Collins, the sage tennis observer, summed it up succinctly: "I think we were in a slump with the game, but I see it improving."

Clearly, the world has shrunk drastically in the past decade and a half. Tennis matters more today in places like Serbia (where it is the No. 1 sport), Europe in general, and South America. In America, where there are so many more options for our consumption, tennis isn't all that high on the list. In fact, tennis is the No. 10-most trafficked sports on, behind major league baseball, the NFL, the NBA, soccer, college football and basketball, the NHL, golf, and NASCAR -- but second among individual sports.

"Of course tennis matters to all of us who love it," Carillo said. "But does your average American jamoke on the street care? I don't know. The casual fan only hears about tennis a couple of times a year. I'm not sure it was ever much more than that."

At the top, mixed results

Those one, two or three times a year that tennis touches every fan are the Grand Slam events, where lately the results have been mixed for Americans. When the Sports Illustrated story ran, America was in the midst of its worst Open Era decade with respect to Grand Slams. Between 1988 and 1997, U.S.-born players won only 18 major titles -- 10 of them belonging to Pete Sampras. But the following decade, from 1998 to 2007, eight different athletes, most notably, the Williams sisters, helped America take 30 majors -- surprisingly equaling the 1968-77 period, when King and Evert were the leading lights.

The last man to win a major singles title was Andy Roddick, in 2003. Since then, the Williams sisters have won a total of eight Grand Slam titles (Serena five and Venus three). With Venus already 29, Serena turning 28 next month and Roddick reaching 27 later this month, there are growing concerns about where the next generation of U.S. champions is going to come from.

Serena and Venus are ranked No. 2 and 3 in the world, respectively, but the next American woman is 17-year-old Melanie Oudin, at No. 70. Eight American men are in the top 100, but Roddick is the only one in the top 20.

Lower down the tennis ladder, the news is better.

The United States Tennis Association and the Tennis Industry Association, always conscious of tennis' public image, work aggressively from a two-page document of key messaging points. Keeping in mind that statistics can be subjective; relative; and, depending on how they are parsed, misleading, here are some highlights:

• Tennis is the fastest-growing traditional sport in the U.S.; according to a Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association May 2009 report, tennis participation increased 43 percent since 2000 and 9.6 percent in the last year. However, nontraditional sports -- such as Pilates and lacrosse -- have experienced greater growth.

• The SGMA study says in 2008 there were 18.6 million tennis players in the U.S. (age 6 and above), higher than, for example, totals in 1998 (16.9 million) and 1987 (17.3 million).

• Ball and racket sales increased significantly between 2003 and 2008 -- balls were up 16.2 percent and rackets increased 44.3 percent. Junior racket shipments increased by 87.7 percent in that five-year period.

"Everybody is working to move forward with positive momentum," said Jolyn de Boer, the TIA's executive director. "And we're going to keep pushing."

It seems to be working. The Associated Press recently produced a positive story on the growth of tennis and de Boer reports that Jon Wertheim -- a writer for Sports Illustrated, of all venues -- didn't promise a cover story, but said he'd consider noting some of these rising bullet points.

The recent television numbers are up, too. In 2008, tennis was broadcast for a record 3,150 hours in the U.S. The number in 2009 will be higher.

Although television ratings have been in a steady decline over the years, NBC's ratings for the Wimbledon men's final the past two years featuring wins by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer -- 3.5 (2008) and 3.8 (2009) -- were the best since 1999 and 2000, when Pete Sampras triumphed over Andre Agassi and Patrick Rafter.

Those epic matches, when they come in Grand Slam finals and feature all-time players, can capture even the indifferent observer, Carillo's "jamoke on the street."

"In the history of tennis, those matches bring in the casual fan," said U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe. "Federer and Nadal on men's side -- they're almost bigger than the game, among the greatest of all time -- that draws attention and increases the numbers all the way around.

"That takes tennis into the talk at the watercooler, which is where all of those who love the sport want it to be."

Jim Courier, the four-time Grand Slam champion, knows the numbers intimately -- for the co-founder of the Outback Champions Series, it's a business necessity. He has anecdotal evidence, too.

"From what I'm seeing, people are playing tennis again," Courier said from the Manhattan office of InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, which runs the senior circuit. "You see more people in the streets carrying rackets and riding bikes, too. There was a time when there was a moratorium on tennis rackets in airports. I've seen more and more of that."

A premium niche

Serena Williams' straight-sets victory over Jelena Jankovic in the 2008 U.S. Open final posted a 3.3 rating, the highest in six years. ESPN's programming folks say that tennis generally does 1.5 times better than the usual programming on ESPN2. In the five years that the Australian Open men's final has been televised by ESPN2 at 3:30 a.m. ET, the ratings were, in order, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.6 and 0.9 this year.

"We're in this huge ascending mode," said Ken Solomon, the excitable CEO of the Tennis Channel, which was born in 2003. "The tennis fan is most abused fan in sports for two decades. That's all changed.

"You put it out there, they're going to soak it up. That's the magic of what we're doing."

According to Solomon, from a business standpoint, these are the unique advantages of tennis:

• Half of Tennis Channel's viewers and participants are women. No other major sport can say that.

• Three-quarters of the audience play the game -- another unique number.

• Its season runs virtually year-round and there are professional matches being played almost every day of the year. And the best players play the most matches.

• Tennis Channel has the most affluent audience of all cable networks, with its viewers' salaries averaging more than $82,000 per household.

"The closest analogy," Solomon said, "is the Sweet 16 -- we do that every week. That's why tennis draws a growing audience."

Despite the sharp downturn in the economy, attendance at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and ATP World Tour's U.S. events has increased in recent years. The WTA reported a total of 1.75 million spectators for its 11 U.S. events in 2008, 400,000 more than the 1998 figure. The 12 ATP World Tour events in 2008 drew 1.5 millions fans, up more than 200,000 from the 2000 total. These increases are due largely to significant gains by the U.S. Open (720,000 in 2008) and the events in Indian Wells (approximately 330,000) and Miami (300,000).

"Despite these difficult economic times," said Stacey Allaster, Sony Ericsson WTA Tour CEO, "the tour is in the strongest financial position in its history. Of our 51 tournaments, only one [Los Angeles] has lost its title sponsor. Attendance is holding its own, and when you metric that against how other sports leagues are doing, we think we're doing well.

"Tennis is a premium, niche product. It's very attractive to consumer and luxury brands. They have the resources to invest in these top-quality events and top-quality athletes."

Tennis, with its noble origins and high-end demographics, has always been a tough sell to the masses. It is a highly individual sport; there are no teams in major cities to excite widespread loyalty and support. As Allaster says, it has always been a niche sport and, with the proper care and feeding, probably will continue on that trajectory.

Paul Annacone is better known as a former player and Pete Sampras' coach through his dominant years, but for one year after that terrific run with Sampras, Annacone was the USTA's managing director of the high performance division -- roughly the title occupied today by Patrick McEnroe.

How do you elevate tennis in America?

"If there was an easy answer," said Annacone, now the head coach of men's tennis for Britain's Lawn Tennis Association, "everybody would have it."

How, Annacone was asked, do you get more rackets in the hands of our kids? What's the catalyst?

"Kids usually get involved in sports because they want to emulate someone," he said. "One of the most exciting times -- and maybe the saddest times in retrospect -- is the great group we had in the '90s. We had Michael Chang, Pete Sampras, Mal Washington, Jim Courier, Todd Martin. If you can't capture kids with all those personalities and diversity, well, I think we missed a big opportunity.

"I don't blame the USTA, the agents, the players, me included. I don't blame anybody -- I blame everybody. We should have been more creative in finding a way to get players to carry the flag. I feel like it sort of slipped away, and that's too bad because that was an era we may never see again."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for

Serena Williams ~ Maria Sharapova ~ Venus Williams ~ Jelena Dokic ~ Melanie Oudin ~ Christina McHale

Vandeweghe ~ Mattek-Sands ~ King ~ Hampton ~ Riske ~ Glatch ~ Brengle ~ Rogers ~ Stephens ~ Boserup ~ Davis ~ Keys ~ Lepchenko ~ Falconi ~ Chirico ~ Crawford ~ Gibbs ~ Pegula ~ Min ~ Townsend ~ Duval ~ Vickery ~ Bellis ~ Ahn
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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 05:46 PM Thread Starter
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Re: American Tennis

Luring U.S. kids gaining traction?

Long before he was Pete Sampras' coach, before he reached No. 12 in the world, or the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 1984, Paul Annacone was a Bollettieri kid.

He logged thousands of hours at Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla. There, banging with the best and the brightest young players in the game, he learned -- he earned -- the craft of tennis.

When Annacone's son, Nicholas, who had been raised in the culture of tennis, asked at the age of 10 to go to Bollettieri's, his father had his back-in-my-day speech ready. To be as good as you can possibly be, he said, it's going to take a lot of hard work and sacrifice. It's time in the gym and the classroom; it's five, six hours a day on the sun-baked courts. It might even mean missing parties and other social events.

Nicholas' eyes widened.

"His answer, it was very honest," Annacone said. "He said, 'I don't know if I'm interested. No, Dad, I don't think I want to do that.'"

Annacone wants you to know that his son is not "a lazy slacker." He's 22 now and attends his father's alma mater, the University of Tennessee. Nicholas was just a typical, path-of-least-resistance American kid.

"These days, kids are thinking their life is pretty good," Annacone said, sounding like any parent over 40. "They've got their Game Boy, PlayStation, Sony, Wii. They're getting decent grades in school, hanging out with their girlfriend."

Mastering the sport of tennis is an exceedingly difficult proposition. It requires athleticism, strength and endurance -- and mental toughness. Relentlessly running down that small bouncing ball, adjusting to its changing geometry, well, it's not as fun as texting.

"We're in the dreaded middle ground of real exercise and bona fide skill development, which puts us in the category of ultra-challenging, skill-developing sport," longtime player Todd Martin observed. "That's one of our greatest limitations.

"When you pick up a basketball, all you have to do is put it through the hoop. A kid does it once, he wants to do it again because it reminds him of LeBron or Kobe. Nothing a kid does on a tennis court can remind him of what he sees in Federer or Nadal."

College tennis, once the preserve of U.S. country club kids, is now far more diverse. In this year's NCAA championships, 21 of the 40 singles players were from outside the United States.

Back in the late 1970s and early '80s, when American tennis was in full flower, typically more than half of the top 100 ranked players on the men's and women's sides were Americans. Today, there are eight U.S. men in the ATP's top 100 and five U.S. women in the WTA's top 100 -- one of them Varvara Lepchenko, a U.S. citizen who was born in Uzbekistan.

By contrast, there are five Russian women among the top 10. When you factor in the former territories of the Soviet Union that are now countries in their own right, the total is 24 -- nearly one-fourth of the top 100.

Fewer choices means hunger

The professional game has gone global, and not surprisingly, much of the young talent is coming from Eastern European nations that don't enjoy the relative wealth we have in America.

Serbia, where tennis has become the No. 1 participation sport, is the leading example.

Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, who were both briefly No. 1, learned to play tennis in a suburb of Belgrade. Amid sirens during NATO raids, they hit balls on a carpeted, downsized court that was once an Olympic-size swimming pool. The walls were only 18 inches from the lines, so they couldn't hit crosscourt shots or serve out wide. Out of necessity, they went for the lines -- a metaphor for the hunger of today's emerging international players. Fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic, who finished No. 3 in the world the last two years, left Belgrade at age 12 to train in Munich, Germany, with Niki Pilic.

The most popular participation sport in France is soccer, with more than 2 million registered players. Tennis is No. 2, with more than 1 million. Is it merely a coincidence that France -- a nation of 65 million, compared to 300 million for the United States -- has 11 men and eight women ranked among the top 100?

"We're at a disadvantage because we have so many choices, so many sports for men and women," said Bud Collins, who has been in the tennis game for a half-century, going back to the late 1950s, when he was the tennis coach at Brandeis University. "The Spanish are so good because they only have soccer, basketball -- and tennis.

"We have to somehow convince our good young athletes to play tennis."

Todd Martin was born in 1970, in Hinsdale, Ill.

"One of the greatest things in my childhood was boredom," said Martin, who became part of that great generation of American men that included Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang.

When he was 4 years old, growing up in Hudson, Ohio, Martin got his mother to help him tip over the redwood picnic table on the brick patio his father had laid in the backyard. For hours, he'd hit tennis balls against it.

"That doesn't happen nowadays," said Martin, the father of two boys, Jack, 6, and Cash, 3. "In this culture, you can never be bored. Our society is so averse to the kids' being creative on their own."

The next day, after a one-hour phone conversation, Martin sent along an e-mail that clarified his thoughts.

"Something I did not mention," he wrote, "was the need for young tennis players to go out and play with one another without constant instruction. Too much input can be stifling for the child and the learning process, not to mention detrimental to the development of the independence needed to play tennis."

There is a prevailing view in tennis that professional stars help the game in a trickle-down kind of way; kids see the Williams sisters and are motivated to pick up a racket.

"When kids see tennis on television," U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said, "it gives us a better chance to have a bigger pool of tennis players."

A recent Harris Interactive poll -- 2,177 U.S. adults were surveyed online in June -- found that Serena and Venus Williams were the two favorite female sports stars. Three other tennis players -- Maria Sharapova, Chris Evert and Anna Kournikova -- made the list, although Evert and Kournikova are retired. No male tennis players made the list, which was topped by Tiger Woods.

As the success of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal suggests, having American stars at the top of the game isn't absolutely essential to the success of global tennis, but it doesn't hurt. The American market is important to both pro tours.

"Five tennis players, three Americans -- that's pretty significant," said Stacey Allaster, CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. "That's a great dynamic to promote the sport to our younger fans."

According to Allaster, 42 percent of the WTA's "premier" events -- eight of 19 -- are played in the United States. Two of the top 5 events, featuring $4.5 million in prize money, are Indian Wells and Miami.

Tapping another large pool

Tennis is a vastly tougher sell in America than it used to be. At the dawn of the Open era in 1968, there was no cable television -- no ESPN, no HBO, Food Network or QVC to absorb audiences. Lacrosse was an elite sport in scattered pockets around the Northeast. Skateboarding, BMX bikes and the entire family of X Games sports had not yet seized the imaginations of our youth. Today, the Internet's dizzying social networks and cellular phones have certainly cut into the pie of leisure time.

"My kids need no more than an iPod Touch to keep themselves occupied on an eight-hour flight to Europe," Worcester said. "But the challenge for tennis got harder with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and all those things that take up a consumer's time and dollar. We can't sit back and be just tennis tournaments; we have to be sports entertainment events.

"We're selling the competition of tennis, but we're also selling the wine tasting, the fashion show and the rock-climbing walls."

Although legitimate participation numbers going back to the 1970s are unavailable, there is a general feeling that tennis in America enjoyed its finest moments in the mid-1970s and into the '80s. Hollywood embraced the sport, and it was fashionable to wear tennis gear. With the wave of Baby Boomers, there were simply more Americans in their teens and 20s at that time -- a time in life when sports loyalties are forged. There were more than 4 million births per year in America between 1954 and 1964, with the record, 4.3 million, coming in 1957.

CBS' best U.S. Open rating ever, 11.0, came in the 1980 final, when John McEnroe defeated Bjorn Borg in five sets. Those two men delivered NBC's best-ever Wimbledon rating, 7.9, the following year with another riveting final.

"The economy was fantastic at the time," legendary coach Nick Bollettieri said. "Everyone, it seemed, was playing tennis. Mom and Dad would bring the kids to the courts, and they'd all hit.

"Today, they don't see Mommy and Daddy playing. Mommy's got a job -- or two -- and the economy is a big factor in the sport."

Those baby boomers had their own children, of course, and between 1989 and 1993, annual U.S. birth rates climbed back over 4 million. This is probably a factor in today's rising participation numbers and television ratings.

"My parents' generation fell in love with tennis," said Jim Courier, co-founder of the Outback Champions Series. "They passed the sport on to us. Now people of my age are having kids, and they're passing their love of tennis to their kids. There maybe a natural cycle in that direction that comes in another 20 or 25 years."

"When was the last time we won a Grand Slam -- six weeks ago at Wimbledon, right?" said Peter Bodo of Tennis Magazine and frequent contributor to "It's not like we fell off the map. Where's the next batch coming from? Listen, it's like summer lightning -- it happens quickly.

"I remember writing these post-John McEnroe stories, and wham, we had Sampras, Courier and Agassi. When one of these kids wins the Open -- maybe Sam Querrey or Devin Britton -- we'll be writing that American tennis is coming back."

Pam Shriver, who won 20 Grand Slam doubles titles with Martina Navratilova, was exposed to tennis through her family -- grandparents, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles. The other day, on the west side of Los Angeles, a tennis lesson broke out outside her home.

"My three kids grabbed me and said, 'Come on, Mom; let's hit some balls,'" Shriver said.

Kate and Sam, who are 3, played with their junior rackets, and 5-year-old George hit with his new (and very much prized) full-sized Wilson Roger Federer model.

"It was fun," Shriver said. "It's a great family sport because it brings people together. Tennis should always be in the conversation of keeping and staying healthy. We need to keep getting that message out in today's America."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for

For Anne Worcester, Pilot Pen Tennis tournament director, technology has advantages and disadvantages.

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Re: American Tennis

U.S. taking a more unified approach

Having successfully navigated the perils of that nasty dumpster at his Southampton home, Patrick McEnroe is driving himself to the United States Tennis Association offices in White Plains, N.Y. After several scheduled meetings, it's into the city for a haircut and then dinner with Jim Courier, the two noshing on small plates at an organic restaurant in SoHo.

McEnroe is, as always, at a splendid ease with himself, cordial and curious to know how the summer is going in suburban Connecticut. In a wide-ranging conversation a few weeks ago, the USTA's general manager of elite player development did not come across as a man with the weight of the tennis world on his shoulders.

Even though, of course, it is.

More than any single person, as unlikely as it might have seemed 15 years ago, the future of tennis in America rests largely with McEnroe.

"I'm excited about the challenge," McEnroe said. "We've got a lot of things going on. It's all part of the grand plan."

McEnroe, who says this with a self-deprecating hint of irony in his voice, did not win seven Grand Slam singles titles like his older brother John. Still, after graduating from Stanford University with a degree in political science, he was a serviceable professional. He won one title (Sydney, 1995), reached the semifinals of the 1991 Australian Open and was once ranked No. 28 in the world. In retrospect, it is instructive that he was more effective in collaboration; McEnroe won 16 doubles titles, including the 1989 French Open with Jim Grabb. He was always, in tennis parlance, a grinder. Most athletes peak in their 20s or 30s, then fall into remission when their sporting careers are over. McEnroe, on the other hand, has taken the ball on the rise and, multitasking with deceptive grace, is hitting more forehand winners than ever at the age of 43.

He was the captain when the U.S. won the 2007 Davis Cup, the first American triumph in that competition in a dozen years. P-Mac is a broadcaster for ESPN and is married to singer and actress Melissa Errico, with whom he has three daughters: Victoria, Juliette and Diana. The only sign of stress he exhibits is in his rapidly silvering hair. The demand for his views after the past two Wimbledon finals surprised him and told him that tennis' popularity was on the rise.

"In the nine years I've been the Davis Cup captain, the overall attention has gone up considerably year to year," McEnroe said. "The buzz in the cities we play has been tremendous. The rivalries in the men's game are as good as they've ever been. Obviously, we don't have the Americans we had.

"The game has been sold as a global game, and it's been sold very well."

And now, McEnroe must sell the game to America, from the bottom up.

A unified national strategy

McEnroe has been on his newest job for only 15 months now, so it is difficult to assess his impact. Most of those interviewed for this series, however, believe he has guided the USTA toward a more coherent, professional and systematic approach to developing elite junior players into professionals. Like some of the eastern European nations, the USTA is identifying younger talent and giving it
better, more unified training and coaching.

The USTA now trains top prospects at its two national training centers, in Boca Raton, Fla., and Carson, Calif. Back in December, the USTA announced that it would partner with existing facilities in Atlanta and Maryland, the first two of a dozen or so certified regional training centers planned for the next five years. The most recent addition was the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, Texas.

Peter Bodo, of Tennis Magazine and a frequent contributor to, believes the USTA's "modulated" approach is a prudent one.

"Whenever people talk about big issues -- gun control, housing, social medicine -- they always say, 'Why not be like Denmark or France or Sweden?'" Bodo said. "Why not? Because we're not. To adopt a socialized system of player development doesn't fit into our national self-image.

"You can't just throw a ton of money at the problem. The USTA is taking a matched-grant sort of approach. They're saying, 'If you as parents or coaches are doing your job, we'll meet you halfway. The better job you do, the more we'll support you.'"

"From what I hear, Patrick is getting buy-in from the local coaches," said Jim Courier, who co-founded the Outback Champions Series. "So now the USTA is part of the solution, as opposed to a competitor with the tennis academies."

This is a fundamental change in approach, directed by the consensus-building McEnroe. His ultimate boss, Lucy Garvin, the USTA's chairman of the board and president, said she is pleased with the early returns.

"His commitment to the training centers has been paramount," she said. "It's critical to provide these venues for our best young players and, hopefully, creating champions of the future."

Back in June, Jose Higueras, who had worked with Michael Chang, Jim Courier, Jennifer Capriati and Roger Federer, among others, was named to oversee a staff of about 20 junior coaches.

The USTA has put its money where its aspirations are. The player development budget was increased by 50 percent this year, to $15 million from $10 million.

Technically, the USTA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit educational organization with an annual budget that was just more than $200 million last year. How does it pay the cost of identifying and shaping future champions?

The cash cow is the U.S. Open, which begins on Aug. 31 at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. Last year's attendance was a record 720,000 and various estimates place annual profits around $110 million. That makes it one of the most financially lucrative sporting events in the world. So when you buy that $16 shrimp salad plate or the $8.50 french fries in the coming fortnight, know that you are contributing to the effort to thrust Americans back into the forefront of tennis.

With Serena and Venus Williams and Andy Roddick -- all Wimbledon semifinalists and the only U.S. players ranked among the top 20 -- closer to 30 years old than 25, this is a delicate juncture. The USTA supports rising 21-year-old Sam Querrey, who reached three consecutive ATP finals earlier this summer, as well as 17-year-old Melanie Oudin, winner of three main-draw matches at Wimbledon, NCAA champion Devin Britton and the wave of on-the-cusp juniors.

There are currently three American junior girls listed among the International Tennis Federation's top 10: Sloane Stephens, 16; Lauren Embree, 18; and Christina McHale, 17. And the U.S. girls' team featuring Sachia Vickery, Victoria Duval and Brooke Austin recently won the 14-under world junior tennis title -- a record third straight victory for the United States. There are no American boys in the ITF junior top 10, but eight appear in the top 50. One of them, 17-year-old Jordan Cox, defeated Britton -- his doubles partner -- 16-14 in the third set of a rousing Wimbledon semifinal match.

Stacey Allaster, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour CEO, is well acquainted with a national tennis agenda; she came to the WTA after 15 years with Tennis Canada.

"Where is the next group coming from -- that's a natural cycle in development that the USTA has faced time and time again," Allaster said. "U.S. tennis isn't just built with players, it's built with pillars like the U.S. Open, the U.S. Open series as a promotional platform and the cooperation of both tours in the marketing of USTA campaigns."

McEnroe is sanguine about these prospects, but remains a realist.

"One our coaches, Jay Berger, spent a week in California, assessing about 20 kids who were 9 and 10 years old," McEnroe said. "He called me and said he was blown away by them. He said if we can find some more of these kids we're going to have a real chance."

McEnroe told Berger: "If we've got them, they probably have them in France and Serbia, as well."

"Patrick is trying to recruit better coaching, get better facilities," said tennis analyst Mary Carillo. "He's trying to create the environment that can produce the players like Europe has produced.

"In Spain, they'll drive for half the day and play three hours in a row -- for a Coca-Cola. They play games in practice, and they'll play anybody, anywhere. In this country, they're worried about protecting their sectional ranking. They think short term -- to their detriment. American juniors need to start thinking bigger."

The local level

Three decades ago, Nick Bollettieri saw the future. In Bradenton, Fla., he created the Bollettieri Academy, a tennis experiment in social Darwinism.

"Throw all the talented kids you can find into the same pot, let them beat the s--- out of each other and see what happens," Bollettieri said, laughing. "It worked pretty good."

Indeed, he produced 10 players -- from Agassi to Courier to the Williams sisters -- who became ranked No. 1 in the world. This seems to be the rough model for the USTA's training centers, where with younger players in greater numbers, competition should increase.

"Patrick can do this," Bollettieri insisted. "He's going to have to help people develop a feeling of trust with the USTA. With everybody working together, great things can happen. It's going to take three to five years, hopefully, to build it right."

But before the USTA intervenes, of course, there has to be someone to light the fire.

"When you look at the history of great champions, families have been the driver in every single example," said Courier, a four-time Grand Slam champion. "If there were 500 guys like Richard Williams waking up and saying, 'I'm going to make my daughters champions,' we'd be having a different conversation."

Todd Martin, a playing contemporary of Courier's, stresses the importance of support at the club level.

"You're not going to get a battalion of parents that develop the next generation of great tennis players," Martin said. "It has to happen at the local level, the local tennis proprietor. That's where I think our sport has taken a huge hit. We are serving recreational tennis players with personality and almost personality alone.

"Programming and knowledge-based instruction is what allowed the sport to grow through the '70s and '80s, and it developed great players. The only way to do is improve locally. You cannot, frankly, expect Patrick and his staff to work down to that level."

Perhaps the simplest way to grow the game is to start at the beginning.

Sixteen months ago, the USTA launched QuickStart Tennis, a new playing format designed to draw in kids by "playing to learn" rather than "learning to play." If you've ever tried to rally with a 5-year-old, you know how frustrating it can be -- for all parties concerned.

While a regular singles court is 78 feet long, by 27 feet wide, the QuickStart court runs 36 feet long (from the doubles lines) and 18 feet wide (between the back service lines and baseline). Four QuickStart courts can be laid out on a conventional court. The downsized game is designed for kids 10 and under and includes smaller rackets and foam balls.

"I think it's one of the best sports for children, now that I have two little ones," said Mary Joe Fernandez, the U.S. Fed Cup captain. "My kids like soccer because kicking the ball is so easy. Tee ball, it's the same thing -- instant gratification. With QuickStart, kids have success right away. And that's going to help tennis."

Accessibility, according to the USTA's Garvin, is the goal.

"Seventy percent of tennis is played in the tennis parks system," she said. "Tennis has to be for everyone. I think, going back to 2003, we've made a difference in that respect."

New Haven, Conn., is home to Yale University, one of the world's elite institutions of higher learning. The Pilot Pen tennis tournament is played annually at the Connecticut Tennis Center on the university's sprawling athletic grounds west of the city. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, New Haven has a population of 124,000, of which 37.4 percent are African-American and 21.4 percent Hispanic. The median income is $29,604 -- half the Connecticut average -- and 24 percent are listed below the poverty level.

According to Anne Worcester, the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament director, the event works hard to capture New Haven's inner-city kids. There is an annual Free Lesson -- this year hosted by Taylor Dent and attended by 500. There, children received a flyer that offered eight tennis lessons for $35, courtesy of the New Haven Parks & Recreation program with underwriting help from Pilot Pen and the USTA. Over the past seven years, nearly 4,000 kids have taken the lessons.

"The objective is to turn them onto tennis, and it's working," Worcester said. "We've added intermediate lessons and advanced lessons, too. Twelve of our kids have gone on to play USTA junior events.

"We've all started to realize the best engine to grow tennis at the community level is through professional tennis. I call it self-serving philanthropy. I mean, we're creating future tennis ticket buyers."

The public courts are used so frequently that New Haven, with support from the USTA, recently spent $155,000 for repairs. Melanie Oudin was on hand for the recent announcement at the city's Englewood Park.

"That floats my boat," Worcester said. "It's one of those joyous moments when you see something like that. More people are playing, more people are watching. I take heart in that, and feel like we're all doing something right."

Serena Williams ~ Maria Sharapova ~ Venus Williams ~ Jelena Dokic ~ Melanie Oudin ~ Christina McHale

Vandeweghe ~ Mattek-Sands ~ King ~ Hampton ~ Riske ~ Glatch ~ Brengle ~ Rogers ~ Stephens ~ Boserup ~ Davis ~ Keys ~ Lepchenko ~ Falconi ~ Chirico ~ Crawford ~ Gibbs ~ Pegula ~ Min ~ Townsend ~ Duval ~ Vickery ~ Bellis ~ Ahn

Last edited by simonsaystennis; Aug 23rd, 2009 at 06:00 PM.
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old Aug 25th, 2009, 02:46 AM
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Re: American Tennis


Daniilidou. Venus. Azarenka. Halep. Wickmayer.
Cornet. Ivanovic. Vesnina.. Vaidisova. Krajicek.
Paszek. Begu. Cirstea. Lisicki. Pavlyuchenkova.
Pironkova. Stephens. Tatishvili. McHale. Flipkens.
Grammatikopoulou ~ Papamichail ~ Sakkari
I'm obsessed with the Greek players. Deal with it.

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