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Monday, September 15, 2014

ITA Operating Committee Votes to Play No-Ad this Fall; ITF Junior Update

Although I haven't received the confirmation I've requested from the ITA, I have heard today's operating committee conference call resulted in a decision to continue to play the no-ad format throughout the fall, including at both ITA majors.  My understanding is that there were three votes taken: for no-ad in doubles (same format as ITF, ATP, WTA) and regular scoring for singles; no-ad in some situations, but not all; and no-ad as originally approved, for both singles and doubles.

When I hear back from the ITA, who has characterized this process as open and transparent one, I will provide the breakdown on each vote, but I do know there were four coaches who voted against the no-ad as currently adopted: Lin Loring(Indiana women), Brian Kalbas(North Carolina women), Brian Boland (Virginia men), and John Roddick(Oklahoma men).

How this impacts the dual match season, I don't know now, but I hope to learn when the ITA provides more information.

In junior news, Sofia Kenin is in Albuquerque, preparing for the altitude of San Luis Potosi Mexico, where the Junior Fed Cup will be held later this month. In qualifying for the $75,000 tournament there, the 15-year-old Floridian defeated No. 2 seed Maria Sanchez(USC) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 today, and will qualify if she can defeat Nicole Melichar on Tuesday.  CiCi Bellis, also representing the USA in Junior Fed Cup, lost to Stanford sophomore Carol Zhao 7-5, 6-4.  The third member of the Junior Fed Cup team, Tornado Alicia Black, had not completed her second round match against top qualifying seed Sanaz Marand(UNC).


After the US Open, the Junior Fed Cup and Junior Davis Cup, which begin a week from tomorrow, take center stage on the ITF junior calendar.  But lower level tournaments continue, with the Grade 2 in Canada drawing many of the international players who were in New York for the junior championships.

No. 7 seed Destanee Aiava of Australia, who lost in the first round of qualifying to Johnnise Renaud, won the girls singles in Canada, defeating No. 3 seed Kimberly Burrell, also of Australia, 7-6(3), 6-2 in the final.  Aiava, 14, defeated top seed Iryna Shymanovich of Belarus in the quarterfinals.  No. 2 seed Petros Chrysochos of Cyprus won the boys singles, defeating top seed Yunseong Chung of Korea 5-7, 6-0, 7-5. 

Three American juniors made the quarterfinals, No. 5 seed Jessica Ho and unseeded Mwendwa Mbithi and Jack Barber. Jessica Golovin lost in the doubles final, with she and her partner Aiava falling to Gabby Ruse of Romania and Vera Lapko of Belarus 7-5, 6-0.  Alafia Ayeni was another American reaching the doubles final; he and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece lost to Chung and Seongchan Hong of Korea 1-6, 6-3, 10-7.

In other parts of the world, Ally Miller Krasilnikov took the singles title in the Togo Grade 4, with the No. 2 seed defeating top seed Nicole Dzenga of Zimbabwe 6-4, 7-5 in the final. Krasilnikov also reached the doubles final.   At the Honduras Grade 5, top John Jorgeson won an all-American final, defeating No. 4 seed Xavier Oshinowo 6-0, 6-1. Jorgeson and Nikola Samardzic, the No. 2 seeds,  won the doubles title.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Brady, Nevolo Sweep Pro Circuit Events; US Stays in Davis Cup World Group with Sweep of Slovakia


UCLA sophomore Jennifer Brady is taking the fall off to play Pro Circuit tournaments (according to this New York Times article, at the behest of the USTA) and she got off to an excellent start by winning the singles and doubles titles at the $25,000 tournament in Redding, Calif. The unseeded 19-year-old, who didn't lose a set in her five victories, beat top seed Mayo Hibi in the quarterfinals and No. 3 seed Zuzana Zlochova of Slovakia in the semifinals.  She met doubles partner Lauren Embree, the former Gator star, in the final today, handily winning that match 6-2, 6-1.

When I spoke to Brady after her loss to Jamie Loeb at the American Collegiate Invitational in New York, she said she had been working with the USTA throughout the three weeks of the Open (she lost in the first round of qualifying to Carina Witthoeft of Germany) and would continue to do so this fall.

"I'm going to train in Boca at USTA and play a bunch of Challengers in the next couple of months," said Brady, who also received a US Open wild card in women's doubles with Samantha Crawford. "It's been a great experience, a lot of fun," she said of her long stay in New York.

Embree, who returned to competition a couple of months ago after hip surgery kept her out for the first half of the year, was also unseeded in singles, and the pair was unseeded in doubles as well.  They won all their matches without needing a match tiebreaker however, defeating Cal-Irvine twins Kat and Alexandra Facey, also unseeded, 6-3, 6-2. Embree had won the doubles title last year with Brady's teammate Robin Anderson; it is Brady's third title, but first at the $25,000 level.

Like Brady, Claremont Futures champion Dennis Nevolo also claimed his first ITF Circuit title, and he too did so without dropping a set.  The top-seeded Nevolo, a 2012 Illinois graduate, defeated No. 4 seed Salvatore Caruso of Italy 6-4, 6-2 in the singles final of the $10,000 tournament.  He and Jeff Dadamo captured the doubles title when Deiton Baughman and Reilly Opelka retired down 5-2 in the first set.

Steve Pratt's account of the tournament is below:

CLAREMONT, Calif., (Sept. 13, 2014) – Dennis Nevolo sure picked a great time to play some of the best tennis of his career.
The 24-year-old former Illinois All-American and top-seeded Nevolo picked up his first USTA Pro Circuit $10,000 Futures singles title by beating No. 4-sseded Salvatore Caruso of Italy on Sunday, 6-4, 6-2, at the Claremont Club Pro Classic.
“I think the way I played in the quarterfinals and the semis and then the final, yeah, you can say I just played some of the best tennis of my career,” said Nevolo, who takes home the $1,440 first-place prize check and 17 valuable ATP World Tour points. “It was probably the most aggressive tennis of my career.”
Playing an experienced red-clay player like Caruso, who Nevolo had beaten last October in the pairs’ only previous meeting, Nevolo said he had to take time away from the steady baseline game of the 21-year-old from a tiny village outside of Sicily.
“It was time pressure,” said Nevolo, who became the first non-Southern Californian to win the title here since 2009. “I counterpunched well and I was always looking to sneak in when I had an opportunity to.”
Last year, Caruso got to as high as No. 320 in the world and played $50,000 Challenger events in Tiburon and Napa. Last year he won his first ITF Futures singles title in Italy.
Watched by his grandparents, Nevolo will drive to their home an hour northwest in Torrance and get ready for a Wednesday start at the Costa Mesa Futures tournament.
“The schedule doesn’t really change,” Nevolo said. “I checked the Napa Challenger ($50,000 event) cutoff and it’s pretty low. So I’ll stick with the plan and play these three Futures in a row, then Sacramento and Tiburon, three 10ks in Texas and then finish the year with two indoor Challengers.”
The final Challenger of the year on the USTA Pro Circuit schedule Nevolo referenced begins Nov. 10 and will take place on Nevolo’s college courts at the Atkins Tennis Center in Champaign, Ill.
####

In tournaments outside the United States, Bjorn Fratangelo won his second consecutive $15,000 Futures tournament in Canada, with the top seed beating No. 7 seed Eric Quigley, Kentucky's 2012 NCAA finalist, 6-4, 6-2.  Nik Scholtz, who is taking the fall off but could return for his senior year at Ole Miss, won his third Futures title of the summer and the first outside his home country of South Africa, today in a $10,000 tournament in Turkey.  Scholtz, the No. 8 seed, defeated No. 2 seed and former Fresno State star Remi Boutillier of France 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2) in the final.

This week's Pro Circuit events are a women's $75,000 tournament in Albuquerque New Mexico, and another $10,000 Futures, this one in Costa Mesa, California, for the men.  Another $15,000 Futures in Canada is also on the schedule.

This weekend in suburban Chicago, the United States retained its place in the 16-nation Davis Cup World Group, defeating Slovakia 5-0. John Isner and Sam Querrey won singles matches on Friday and the Bryan twins clinched the tie with a straightforward doubles victory on Saturday.  For more on the tie, see this article from Sandy Harwitt. Spain will not be among the World Group nations in 2015, losing to Brazil today, and Serbia is currently tied at 2-2 with India, with rain delaying the deciding match until Monday.

Switzerland and France will play for the 2014 Davis Cup in November after wins over Italy and the Czech Republic in this weekend's semifinals.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Top College Players Give Their Thoughts on No-Ad Format



Whether no-ad will return to college tennis or not is now an open question, given the NCAA Division I Championships Cabinet's recent decision to table the proposed format change that included it.

I spoke to all 16 participants in last week's inaugural American Collegiate Invitational at the US Open about no-ad, and the responses varied, primarily along gender lines. (It should be noted that my solicitation of the players' thoughts and their responses were made under the assumption that no-ad would be the format for the 2014-15 season, which is now far from certain).  The women had much less positive to say about it than the men, and I'm not sure why that would be the case.

One theory is the men are more receptive to it because they actually used it in their experimental format this past winter.  Another theory is that players are taking their cues from their coaches, with the women's coaches not supporting it as several of the men's coaches have done.  A third theory I've heard centers on game style, with women viewing their games as unlikely to thrive in a format that could reward the big serve, first-strike game style favored more by men.  The fourth reason could be as mundane as a small sample size, with 16 players hardly representative of the hundreds who will be surveyed on the topic, if the NCAA Cabinet's request is implemented.

Olivia Janowicz, Florida (2013-14 final year of eligibility )
Last fall we were training for it; heard rumors we might be playing it at All-Americans, so I played a couple of practice sets against Brianna[Morgan] and other teammates, and I really disliked it. But maybe in a match, it's different.

I feel like it kind of favors the worse player--people get lucky--and to have ads I feel is really beneficial, especially for a team like Florida. We love long matches. Roland [Thornqvist] will have to change what he's doing, maybe be more aggressive, which our team is pretty well suited to now. Me personally, I don't like it. I'm glad I'm done, I guess. It's the only reason I'm glad I'm done, otherwise, I would have stayed forever.

Mackenzie McDonald, UCLA (sophomore) 
I still think the better players will win. It's definitely going to be different. I think it will teach players to play each point and every point. When there's deuces sometimes you play loose a couple points; you really have to work for the first couple now.  It'll be interesting, I'm not sure how it will be. But I still think the better players will win, there's not going to be too much of an outcome change.

In terms of me making a decision of going pro based off the format, I don't think this is a tremendous difference. For me, I'm going to go pro when I'm ready to go pro. It's not going to change that.

Jennifer Brady, UCLA (sophomore)
It's kind of disappointing. I don't really like it. Every person I've talked to doesn't like it. It's just not, like, tennis. You won't have those eight-minute long games; it'll be 40-all deuce, boom, over.  I feel sometimes if you go deuce ad, deuce ad, that can eventually decide the set or the match. I feel the ad's really important.

Greg Andrews, Notre Dame (2014 graduate)
We played it in the first part of the [dual match] season and I didn't think it affected college tennis too much. I think 99 times out of a 100, the better player is still going to win, and it really makes for some exciting situations. That's ultimately the goal, to have exciting, tense tennis matches, and I think it can contribute to that. I wouldn't say I'm totally for it, but I think it's going to be okay and college tennis is till going to be a lot of fun.

Alexandra Cercone, Florida (2013-14 final year of eligibility)
I feel sorry for everybody else (having to play it).  They have their reasons for doing it, and I understand it boils down to money a lot of times. We'll see how it goes.  If it does end up helping collegiate tennis, attracting more fans, then I think it's a small sacrifice that the players should be willing to make.  But it's definitely going to be an adjustment for the coaches and the players.  It's definitely going to shorten it up a little bit, but tenacity is going to be an important factor regardless of the format.

Jared Hiltzik, Illinois (junior)
I like it, I think it's good. I think that it puts a lot of pressure on you, which is good for people. I feel sometimes people don't want no-ad because they don't want the pressure. But if you thrive under pressure, it's really something different. When I was injured for eight weeks during the dual match season, it was really my first time on the sidelines watching tennis, and the no-ad scoring was so much more enjoyable for me to watch. When I was watching the normal scoring, I was getting pretty bored out there, even with teammates. It just kept going on and on. So I think no-ad will be good.

Hayley Carter, North Carolina (sophomore)
I would prefer it to be how it is. How it is is perfect in my opinion, but obviously not in others' [opinions].  But I'm lucky to be in college, and I will take whatever format comes my way and try my best.  My coach is telling me it's good for development, closing out games, so I think I need to take that mentality. I need to take it as a positive, something to work on, to focus every single game and in that way it can be better for me. But obviously, I would like things to stay the way they are. But change happens.

Raymond Sarmiento, Southern California (2013-14 final year of eligibility)
I know a lot of people don't like it. It's not necessarily the point play, it's the bigger picture. Football is taking all these resources and putting it back into football. So realistically the format being shorter is just a way to keep college tennis afloat.

In terms of playing it, we played a little bit of it last year, and it's good. I like it, it's okay. You really have to focus on every point, and that's what I like. There are some negative effects to it. If you get down 15-0, 30-0, there's only so much you can do to recover. Definitely the matches go by quicker. But if you are playing against UCLA or Virginia, the top schools, it's always going to be a high level, no matter what format you play.

Danielle Collins, Virginia (junior)
It's a shame that a bunch of people, who are on a committee, get to decide these things and don't listen to the opinions and the views of the players. It's not fair to us. It's just really unfortunate that they made this decision. I think that it's a big mistake. I'm really disappointed with their decision and how they decided on it. It's just embarrassing for the sport, it really is.

I don't see women's college tennis, or even men's college tennis, getting a lot of TV coverage, if that is the main reason they're changing formats. There are other ways to speed up matches, maybe getting ball kids, which I think would be a pretty cool experience for younger kids.  I just think there's other options.

If Federer, Nada, Serena and Sharapova, if they were playing no-ad matches, the outcome of who won the tournaments would have been completely different. It's just really embarrassing, I could go on and on about it.

Clay Thompson, UCLA (2013-14 final year of eligibility)
Honestly, I think it's not too big of a deal. I enjoyed playing it in the first couple of months of college tennis this year. Being a big server, it puts me at a little bit of a disadvantage, obviously, but I think it's fun. It teaches you how to play the pressure point better. You have to play that deuce point and that is the end-all point. So playing under that sort of pressure will help you in the pros; if it's 30-40, you'll say, oh I used to play these no-ad points all the time. 

The hype of it being so terrible to development, I can't agree with that. From my standpoint, it really doesn't make that big of a difference; if anything, it teaches you to play the bigger points better.

Kristie Ahn, Stanford (2013-14 final year of eligibility)
I was talking to someone about it yesterday, and I can't imagine what I would do if I had to play it.  I was thinking I'd talk to my opponent before to see if we could agree to break the record for the longest match, just lob every ball to prove the point that you actually can't put a timer on a tennis match.

You have four big names, Stevie [Johnson[, Brad [Klahn[, Mallory [Burdette[, [Nicole] Gibbs, who went through at least three years of college, and I feel we finally have that pathway made--that college is a legitimate stepping stone to the professionals--and now they're just going to take that away. To me, that's just a bit ridiculous.

Alex Sarkissian, Pepperdine (2013-14 final year of eligibility)
We experimented with it for about a month at the beginning of the season and I thought it was fun. It makes it a little bit more exciting. Whoever wins the deuce point--it builds up a lot of excitement for the players and the audience. I enjoyed playing it, and it kind of speeds up the game as well, and that's the goal, isn't it? To get on ESPN, or try to get it televised. I think it should help, make it a little more interesting to watch.

Julia Elbaba, Virginia (junior)
I'm not a fan. I'm strongly not a fan.  I think it's changing the rules of tennis, cheating the game.  For doubles okay, that's fine, but for singles, that's a huge change.  Going to deuce and the next point wins it, for the fans, it might be more exciting, knowing that it's deuce, everybody gather around and see who wins that point, but I feel you can get lucky, winning that point. It's just not the true game.

Peter Kobelt, Ohio State (2013-14 last year of eligibility)
I think it may give an advantage to the weaker team. At the end of the day, I do think it makes the matches shorter, but it takes away the integrity of the sport.

It's an experiment, coaches voted for it, some are happy with it, some are not happy with it, but at the end of the day it's still competing.  The rules change but the team that plays the best and competes the hardest usually will come out an win.

I think I'm happy that I'm out (and not playing no-ad).  There's not much you can do if you're a (current) player. But it's kind of nice to be on the outside looking in on that kind of stuff.

Jamie Loeb, North Carolina (sophomore)
I'm personally not a fan of it. I know Brian [Kalbas] our coach is a fan of it, because it makes every point important, which I understand. But I think it benefits the weaker players--anyone can win, so it makes the playing field much more level. 

In a way it's good, because it makes you focus more--you have to win this point, it's very important--rather than say I can miss and come back. It's going to be pretty hard to come back from 0-40 games and win those games. I see some benefits, but like I said, there's some downside to it. But everyone has to do it.

Marcos Giron, UCLA (turned pro after junior year 2013-14)
I think there's pros and cons to it. It definitely makes you tougher on big points and really focusing on the first couple of points of each game is very important.

But I don't think they should have the no-ad for the NCAAs (individual tournaments) with a wild card into the US Open on the line.  Sometimes I think it can favor the bigger server.

There are pros and cons to it, but I think they should just stay with how the world plays tennis.

Friday, September 12, 2014

US Open Junior Championships Recap; Slideshow

My recap of last week's US Open Junior Championships is up today at the Tennis Recruiting Network. If you couldn't follow my daily coverage here on ZooTennis, you can get the condensed version there.

As I try to do for every US Open Junior Championships, I have compiled a slideshow including every US player who played in the singles main draw, with the round they lost noted on the caption.  Along with the 39 of them, the slideshow also features the singles quarterfinalists and doubles semifinalists. Due to restrictions imposed by the US Open, there is no video for this tournament.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

NCAA on Tabling Division I Format Changes; Bellis, Mmoh Top Entries at ITF B1 Pan American Closed



The NCAA posted a release today on the Division I Championships Cabinet's decision Tuesday to table the format changes proposed by it Tennis Committee. According the the release, the Cabinet
"asked them to gather feedback from the sport’s student-athletes. Committee members were also asked to try to reach more consensus and understanding in the coaching community, particularly among women’s coaches.
Cabinet members also suggested another survey be sent to the membership and that it originate from the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee.
“We put a lot of time and effort into this, so we’re disappointed,” said D.J. Gurule, former chair of the Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Committee and the head women’s coach at Gonzaga University. “But we know we’ve got to reengage with the entire tennis community of coaches and student-athletes to come up with a model that is in the best interests of the sport and is more broadly supported.”
It is unfortunate that the ITA, the USTA and the Division I Tennis Committee weren't able to recognize how polarizing and divisive this proposal was, even when Lin Loring, women's coach at the University of Indiana, provided a petition showing the women's coaching community overwhelmingly against, if not the format per se, the process by which it was put forth to the cabinet.  That petition had been out there for more than a month, and yet the ITA, USTA and NCAA committee elected to roll the dice, hoping they could get it past the Cabinet despite the undeniable resistance of so many.

This is not a good look for Division I college tennis, which faces serious issues, as all non-revenue sports do, about its ultimate survival. That has very little to do with its format and much to do with its perceived lack of value to the school's athletic department.  It was one thing to have the NCAA Division I committee go forward without the ITA's approval on the third-set tiebreaker format back in 2012, it is quite another when a) the USTA takes it upon itself to implement its own format (College Match Day) and b) the ITA Operating Committees misread their own membership so thoroughly.

I spoke to the ITA's David Benjamin on Tuesday night and he told me he would convene the Operating Committees next week (I have since learned that conference call is on Monday, Sept. 15) to decide where the format discussion goes from here.  It's my understanding that the tournaments being played this weekend will adhere to the no-ad format, but the format for the tournaments after this weekend, including the ITA majors,  will be a topic discussed on Monday's conference call.  With little likelihood that a different format change could be approved by the NCAA Division I Championships Cabinet before the upcoming NCAA championships in May of 2015, I would expect a decision to return to advantage scoring, but I am just speculating, and hoping, since I would like to cover the All-American Championships in Tulsa next month.

I will be posting thoughts on the no-ad format  from some of the top college players  in the next few days, and there were a variety of opinions, but I believe another nail in the coffin on this proposal was its lack of input from the student-athletes.  The NCAA has emphasized the student-athlete's role in its governance lately and any data that didn't include a professionally prepared and audited survey of Division I tennis players was not going to be sufficient to convince the Cabinet that change was in the best interest of "student-athlete well-being."

Regardless of whether I cover the men's All American Championships in Tulsa or not, I will be in Tulsa for the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed October 6-11. The acceptance lists were released today, with ITF World No. 1 CiCi Bellis heading the girls list, and Michael Mmoh and Taylor Fritz topping the boys list.  Sameer Kumar, Alejandro Tabilo of Canada and Reilly Opelka are the other Top 100 boys entered.  In addition to Bellis, the Top 100 girls in the field are Renata Zarazua of Mexico, Sofia Kenin, Raveena Kingsley, Katie Swan of Great Britain, Katherine Sebov and Gloria Liang of Canada, Olivia Hauger and Michaela Gordon.

The complete acceptance lists can be found at the ITF junior website.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Top Junior Development Coaches Look for Changes in USTA Player Development, Junior Competition

Chris Clarey has written an article in today's New York Times focusing on the challenges facing Patrick McEnroe's successor as head of player development.  Clarey's primary theme centers on how little McEnroe knew about the demands and requirements of the position when he took it, and advocates for someone who won't need to go through such a steep learning curve.  Clarey does not touch on what I think may be the most significant obstacle to an effective General Manager of Player Development, the governing structure of the USTA itself.  With he or she reporting to not only the USTA chairman, CEO and president, a volunteer who serves one two-year term, as well as the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, currently Gordon Smith, and the volunteer board of directors, the ability to actual implement a long term plan over a reasonable amount of time seems impossible.  And it may be why many of those most qualified for the position are not interested in taking it.

 Craig Tiley, now the Tournament Director of the Australian Open, was a vice chairman of the USTA's High Performance committee before he took the position of Director of Player Development at Tennis Australia in 2005 and was in the running for a similar position then at the USTA. But, as he told me in 2005, its structure was not conducive to actually implementing a comprehensive plan.

"One thing we’ve done in Australia is abolishing all the committees. In the USTA, everyone has to have a voice and there’s such an incredible amount of committees, and reporting to committees, you get inhibited by having to constantly justify what you’re doing or report on what you’re doing. I think it would be much more appropriate to have action the whole time on what you’re doing. That wasn’t the reason I came to Australia, but it’s a significant opportunity that Australia has in comparison to the USTA."

That's an old quote, and maybe there are committees at Tennis Australia now, but, as anyone who lived through the recent junior competition restructuring can tell you, nothing has changed at the USTA, with committees still having a major influence on any policy change advocated by the chairman/president.

For some historical context, here is the article Doug Robson wrote for USA Today about the USTA's change in player development direction, with its own academy and private coaching, when Patrick McEnroe took the job back in 2008.

I am still working on my assessment of the past years in Player Development and what can be improved, but several prominent player development coaches have already done that.

Parenting Aces has posted a Craig Cignarelli article that previously appeared on 10sBalls.com, focusing on the kind of person needed in that job. I can't speak for Craig, but I don't think he'd be happy with a Craig Tiley type, who is definitely a "leader", not a "representative." But after seeing the USTA's role in the college format changes, the junior competition structure changes and the 10-and-under-tennis rollout, it's certainly understandable to want a person who listens first and takes action later.

And Tom Walker, who is a top junior development coach from here in Kalamazoo (now in Lansing) and has been vocal in his opposition to the junior competition changes since their inception, has provided a specific blueprint for what needs to happen to restore a viable USTA junior competition structure.  That too can be found Parenting Aces.

I received an email last night from a junior development coach that he has given me permission to use. I welcome any other accounts or suggestions, which can be sent to clewis[at]zootennis.com or posted in the comments section below.

An open letter from a private tennis coach regarding USTA Player Development

Yesterday, it was announced that Patrick McEnroe will leave his position as General Manager of USTA Player Development. While there has been much discussion over the past years about what role USTA player development should have in the tennis world in the US, I thought it timely to share my thoughts with regard to this matter.

I only address the issue of player development from my own perspective as a junior coach for the last 25 years.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have some very talented juniors that I’ve been able to work with over the years.  I’ve dealt with every age group from ten year old boys to 18 year old girls. Some good sectional USTA players, to top Junior ITF players and everything in between.  Since I’ve always worked as a private coach, never in an academy setting, and usually with only one player at a time, I’ve always had to partner with other coaches, academies, and other organizations that could provide practice environments.

Perfection is an elusive goal and I’m not perfect, I’ve made my share of mistakes in my coaching as does every coach and every organization.  But the USTA PD has been an organization that has never welcomed me and my players no matter which door I’ve knocked on.  So at some point, I simply gave up. And I know a lot of coaches who have experienced exactly the same thing.  So I didn’t feel as though I was the only one.  It is interesting that, as a private coach from the US, with talented players, I have had better access to training with other countries PD federations than with our own.  Over the past year, the young man I coach and I have been invited to train with the Canadian, Danish, French, Spanish and Colombian Tennis Federations, some of which we were able to take advantage of, some invitations just couldn’t be coordinated with our schedule.  On the occassions when I asked the USTA for such access, we received emails saying, 

“yes absolutely”, 

then, 

“well, we are very full around that time, but we will work something out”, 

to 

“we are court constrained, there will be some time, but limited”, 

then when the time came
radio silence.  

And this to a player who is a top 20 US Player based on ITF ranking, a Blue Chip (top 25) based on tennis recruiting ranking, but a player who has not played significantly in the USTA juniors over the past year, but has been as high as top 15 in USTA National Rankings.  What on earth happens to those up and coming kids who want to take the next step and do not have a high ranking?

What could I envision as a supportive PD environment? And it’s worth repeating that I’m only talking about developing the skills of relatively elite players—not what do we do to get more kids to play.  I’ll leave that to people who know more than I about getting parents to see the benefits of tennis over other sports options they may have available to them. 

My PD wish list is relatively straightforward.
·               Support the coaches in the private sector, don’t compete with them.
·               Create an open environment for players at various levels to come practice with each other.
·               Provide more financial assistance for players at a certain level to travel to tournaments around the world and play and practice with the best. This is now a global sport.
·               Provide support for ancilary services such as physical training, nutrition education, sports psychology, etc.
·               Provide a better junior tournament environment that encourages more players and encourages the best players to play. 
 But be reasonable, unless they are from a section/region where there is appropriate competition, it’s not reasonable to expect a player that is pursuing ITF level competition to compete in a sectional tournament in order to obtain a ranking to play in National level events.
 ·               A coordination service run by the USTA that tracks where players are at any given time and tries to put players of similar levels in touch with each other so that they might practice together.
 ·               Provide help in a consulting fashion from specialized coaches.  A great example is some court time with Jose Higueras (one of the best clay court coaches) before the clay season.  (Todd Martin, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, etc. all sought out that kind of help from him.)
·               Facilitate a mentoring environment among our junior players.

Just these basic services, were they available to all who meet some defined, established criteria would be very useful.  One might see private coaches seeking out these services and as a result one might see private coaches broadening their views and making use of these various tools provided by our PD federation.

While I do NOT hold Patrick McEnroe responsible for all the shortcomings of USTA PD and while I don’t believe his departure will remedy or change everything, it is a good time to throw the various views of what our federation could do into the mix.  Maybe we can come up with some new answers, or make use of some tried and true solutions, or maybe just examine things from the perspective of “the way it is now” and not try to apply old rules that worked in the past, but don’t really apply to our sport today.

 I will throw this letter out to various people who might want to raise these types of possibilities as the dialogue develops as to who will take over player development for the USTA.  Perhaps some of these ideas may become discussion points.

Sincerely,
Thom Billadeau