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Friday, November 7, 2008

USA Today on USTA High Performance Changes

There are two rounds of singles to play yet today and lots of consolation matches here at the ITA Indoor Championships, so it will be a late wrap up, but I wanted to post this link to USA Today's look at the changing of the guard at USTA Player Development by tennis reporter Doug Robson. McEnroe once again states his commitment to college tennis as a development path and to working with all the academies and private coaches who are interested. The story also contains the first public reference to the hiring of Martin Blackman for talent identification.

The USTA sent out its official press release yesterday, which makes clear that Jose Higueras will be setting the agenda for coaching and training at the USTA.


Frank said...

If it's all about footwork, why hasn't the top USA soccer players entered any ATP tournaments and won. Who are we kidding?? If you don't have good eye hand coordination along with footwork, then you can't play tennis. Maybe Jose Higueras needs to move back to Spain as this is the USA. Neither of these clowns have ever developed anybody, so the USTA is in for an even longer spell without an American Champion at the US Open. They can never get it right.

tennisjunky said...

I think a major problem which the USTA cant do anything about is that the best US male athletes chose other sports: football, basketball and baseball. As these boys are developing these are team sports, which make them more fun, the kids can develop within their own high school sports systems so they are not ripped out of the mainstream and there is not the expense. Our top baseball, football and basketball players attend regular schools, get a normal education and social life, not to mention there is not the outrageous expense for travel and training etc. But most important these are team sports and the kids attend regular schools. Other countries that are now dominating tennis those attract the best athletes that are willing to give up everything for tennis even though the chance of success is small. That wont happen in the US as our kids have other options and there is nothing the USTA can do to change that. I am not saying the USTA has its act together, I don’t believe they have, or are heading in a better direction, but this is a very tough obstacle to overcome. If I had a young talented male athlete Tennis would not be my first pick for the above, not to mention the lack of financial support the USTA gives many of its promising players.

Tennis Veteran said...

The USTA does have it all wrong with the recent staff changes. They have only had an academy for just over a year and want results right away. As reported by Zoo Tennis, the USA boys and girls just won the 14 and 16 world championships. That's results. Mr. Higueras nor Mr. McEnroe had anything to do with that. These non-developers will ruin the program and walk away even wealthier than they already are leaving the program in even worse hands - Jay Berger and Ola Malmqvist. The future of American tennis is doomed.

get real said...

tennisjunky, you put it perfectly. Lets face it, Tennis is not a top rated sport to follow, it is low on the ratings when it comes to other sports to watch. Does not mean we cannot create a great Tennis player, there are alot of sacrifices for an individual sport. Maybe one day the U.S. will dominate tennis again.(doubt it). It would be nice if the USTA, would send coaches around different areas and check out other talent, and try to focus on long term not short. I have seen some good athletes train at local parks, but because of the $$$, they cannot afford to play every tourney for the top ranking. They should use other sports as an example on how to scout. Instead of giving finance to kids who just dominate the moment. I have watched how scouts for football recruit, and the kids they pick from college to go to the pros is a long process especially when it comes down to signing them. If they are paying a player, that player needs to have every kind of evaluation made. Mental,Physical and personal. Just an idea

a parent said...

To succed in USTA tournaments and get a high ranking which means nothing to anybody but the usta:

1-never miss a first serve-push
2-have a "big" forehand (backhand weakness)
3-call aLL close balls out
4-play constant mindgames and misbehave
5-play very careful tennis-develop nothing
6-travel to over a hundred tournament matches per year which is more than professionals.

7 learn all of this best at high-priced academy

Why is it a mystery that the usta system does not identify talent at a young age. It can only identify rankings-meaningless. done by people who spent their own youth chasing meaningless ranking points

serve-n-volley said...

Of course you need hand-eye coordination. That's given in any sport. Tennis is a racquet and movement sport, so without footwork and balance, a player will be really limited.

I agree that winning the boys and girls 14 & 16 World Championships are results, but that is NOT an indication of where USA stands in the world. Most of the other countries DO NOT send their best players. So it turns into a false reality that the USA usually wins in these events. The USA juniors are solid and deep in quality players, but still have a long way to go to be successful Pro players.

Saying the Higueras hasn't developed any players is ridiculous. Maybe not with beginners, but (to me) development is taking a player from one level to a higher one. He has certainly done that to more than a handful of players.

Also--if the usta is only concerned with USTA ranking, then why is most of the better juniors, playing few Nationals, ITF events, and Pro Future events. Unfortantely, we have an amateur system, that truly slows down the development of a player. There is less hunger for Pro tennis because college tennis is always an option, unlike the rest of the World.

Tennis Knowledge said...

Serve-n-Volley, You also need to have strokes and if you look at today's top players in both men's and women's tennis (Tsonga, Del Portro, Gulbis, Sharapova, Safina, Ivanovic) and the premium is on ball striking skills, power, taking over and controlling points and serving big. Movement is important, but those other points mentioned above are paramount.

Just so that you are not misinformed, this was the 1st time that any country won both boys and girls 14 and 16 championships. In the past, Nadal, Hewitt, Henin, Roddick, Federer and Davenport to name a few, have played this event representing their country.

Jose Higueras got Courier when he was top 20 in the world, Chang when he was a top 30 player and Federer, well you know his stats. He did nothing with Moya and working with Guillermo Coria was a disater. Jose is a very good coach when a player is already developed, but as far as developing a player, he has never proven to take a transitional player and turn them into a top professional.

McLovin said...

The USTA is a mutual admiratioon society that answers to no one. They would never bring in high quality outsiders to disrupt the staus quo. Landsdorf doesn't fit in. Pat Mac will bring in guys that tow the line. Jay Berger, developing juniors, huh? It's all about ball striking technique and developing weapons in an all court game. The USTA develops baseline grinders who make their opponents hit another ball. This is a recipe for failure at the pro level.

journeyman said...

The usta is a monopoly (in a way) so they don't have to answer to anyone. If the usta doesn't hire the elite coaches, then I'm sure they get assistance from them.

Arguably the best development coaches in the USA: Robert Lansdorp, Nick Bollettieri, and Rick Macci. There are other elite coaches who are producing players from scratch, like Brian Devilliers, Brian Barker and Frank Salazar.

To support the usta (for a second)Keep in mind that the usta has been supplemental since the beginning, so it wasn't in the business of developing players. Only until last year has the usta been primary coaching. And that takes time, so give them a few years. Development takes time. Also, the usta trains about 12-20 players at their academy. The next American champions don't only rest on their shoulders, but also the other 1,000s coaches/players all across the US. So all the critizism goes to ALL coaches, parents and developers, NOT just the usta. That's just an easy target.

Collete got what she wanted, another usta bashing session.

serve-n-volley said...

Tennis Knowledge--

Ball striking and power are very important but we can name stuff all day, like needing athletic ability, anticipation, decision making, being a competitor, etc. The list of working on stuff would get too long. I'm hope we can agree that without proper movement and balance, that ball striking is extremely tough at a high level.

I am perfectly aware that those top players played for their countries, however, these group of juniors are a new and different generation. And in the recent past, very few top players play/played for their countries. Everyone you named was at least 6-15 yrs ago. Even our top player, Ryan Harrison didn't play for the 16s. Don't get me wrong, that's an incredible effort by the USA and I'm thrilled our country won.

Jose is a proven coach, and we will see how effective he can be with some of the juniors/pros he will have an influence over. For the record, he did take Tursinov from the 300's to top 30 in the world. And we also don't know what younger players he has helped. He definitely deserves a chance.

tennis knowledge said...

Serve-n-volley, understand your points on movement and balance, but you too must agree that the other points mentioned are key.

I agree that Jose is a proven coach, but only if you already have strokes, balance, movement. etc. Vitaly Gorin, a Russian coach from Northern Cal, took Tursunov from no ranking to closer to top 100. That's when Jose stepped in. By the way, who's Tursonov's coach now? Vitaly Gorin.

You may also want to look at what number Jose is on with USTA employment. It never works out with him. The problem with the USTA is that they hire "stars", who are not work horses. They (USTA) have been down this road before and unfortunately for USA Tennis, it's a dead end.

truth be told said...

Ok, let's be honest here. The kids who play tennis in the US are not the biggest of the bunch. There are a few exceptions (Vandeweghe, maybe even Domijan), but overall, both the boys and girls do not meet up to the Russian or Eastern European size of 6'0 and built very strongly such as Safin or Safina. Especially with the girls, they've got to stop kidding themselves and thinking they can just smack winners all day like Venus or Serena does. I think the USTA should take up different styles of players and develop them, not making all the players play the same way. I think Melanie Oudin has done fantastic and really knows that her size puts her to a big disadvantage when it comes to power, but she makes up for that with her speed and variation. If the USTA could learn to develop these kinds of players, then I think they could be on the right track.

serve-n-volley said...

Tennis Knowledge--

I completely agree with you that the other key points are key.

Vitaly did/currently doing a great job with Tursinov, as I shouldn't have said that Jose only worked with him.

When Jose worked with the usta before, I beleive it was for a certain amount of weeks per year, and not a full time position and he had little influence on how things were run. I agree the usta hires "big names" for bigger roles, but there are definitely a bunch of "work horses" on their coaching staff.

Not sure how you can say that us tennis is a dead end. I say that the rest of the world has caught up and gone past the usa because the usa set a very high standard. I believe the usa will be back but not in the number of champions the usa had in the 70s, 80, and 90s.

tennis knowledge said...


Agree with you on the rest of the world having caught up.

Regarding Jose's previous USTA roll, you may want to research that even closer as he was head of coaching one other time. That didn't work out so well. Unfortunatly, Patrick is enamored by Jose, which is a big mistake. The work horses will take their cues for the "leader", whose previous leadership skills have shown and proven to be lacking.
Again, time will tell.....

tennisfan said...

Claycourt tennis can deffenitly improve your footwork, but is it the answer to making top players in the US?
If that were true, I suppose Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and Venus and Serena Williams would never have made it big!
They grew up playing mainly on?: Yes you know already...HARD COURTS!
And yes, maybe that is not their favorite surface, but the clay court season is really only a quarter of the whole season and the US Open(our own grand slam)is still on hard courts, and fast, like most other surfaces.
Having great technique and the efficientcy in producing those strokes with great timing, is all the more important in todays game with the speeds ever increasing and matches sometimes lasting up to 3 or 4 hours.
So no, I don't think they are going in the right direction with Patrick and Jose!
Chris Tucker

tennisfan said...

Where did all our talent go?
You must be kidding!
The boys and girls had a first in tennis history ever in winning both 14 and 16 inetrnational team championships.
And by the way, most countries do send their best players!
Just look at some of the players that were involved for their country...it is here in the US that we sometimes have to go to our second string, because our top juniors did not want commit to playing.
And that for a country that thrives on patriotism???
And then also having a win at the US open juniors for the girls and a finalist in the boys....???
So did they really need to change course and fire the leadership in place...???

There is talent here for sure.
Most juniors (or their parents) sadly get caught up with the fame and in trying to turn pro before they are ready to handle this.
They also make the mistake of trying to go solo with a private coach too soon.
This isolates them and harms them in their development as young adults and they lose their drive in competing with and against other juniors.

Chris Tucker

Will said...


With regards to the clay court, you said "Having great technique and the efficientcy in producing those strokes with great timing, is all the more important in todays game with the speeds ever increasing and matches sometimes lasting up to 3 or 4 hours."
I dont understand how technique and efficiency would help one more than footwork speed and endurance when you mention that speeds are increasing and matches are becoming longer.
Also, it is true that few of our champions (US) grew up playing on clay court, but think about the possibility if Sampras HAD practiced on clay court along with hard courts. Roger Federer would have a lot more grand slams to catch up on. So, it's not that clay courts will instantly bring out new champions, but it certainly should improve the level of US tennis.

tennisfan said...

"To Will"
I am not sure Pete would have liked to take you up on that chance with his record in mind....

In talking about footwork, I was referring to the article were it is all about footwork.
Do you need good footwork in todays tennis...do you need to be fast and have endurance..of course!
I believe myself that it in training technique, you automatically train footwork as well. But to only train on clay or make everything about clay does not make sense.
It is hard to say what Sampras would have done, had he trained more on clay, but the same could be said for Nadal in training more on hard court!?
Agassi on the other hand was not the fastest mover...great footwork technique...but his weapon was his simplicity in striking ability.
I suppose a good example would be Lindsey Davenport....great striker....terrible footwork (Sorry Lindsey)
So what becomes more important...strokes or footwork?
Answer: they both are equally important but not for every player. If you have a serve like Sampras and a first strike capability on the following shot, you are not going to have to move to much (Not unlike Lindsey) However, he was pretty fast anyway.(just another weapon for him)

My point was...did he have bad footwork, by growing up on hard...answer: no of course not.

When you are short or don't have that first strike ability or winners, you are going to need some wheels.
But to state, like it does in the article, that it is all about footwork, is to general and not sufficient to be one of the best...

Chris tucker