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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Belated Congratulations to USTA Men's and Women's Champions; Cronin Down on U.S. Men's Tennis

The fact that the USTA Men's and Women's Opens, held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center every year, are played between Christmas and New Year's is no excuse for me to forget about them completely. It's a gold ball tournament, and this year it must have been particularly exciting, with the opening of the new indoor facility. (For more on the new space, Tennis Week's Richard Pagliaro provided this account).

Julia Cohen was the top seed and defending champion, but she lost in the semifinals, and 15-year-old Ester Goldfeld captured the title. Wake Forest senior Cory Parr did repeat as the men's champion, and Parr, the top seed, also took the doubles title too, with Craig Schwartz, who had won the doubles gold with another partner in 2007. For all the results, see the TennisLink site.

Matt Cronin of tennisreporters.net, Inside Tennis and Fox Sports, is, like our frequent commenter Austin, dismayed by the current state of men's tennis in the U.S. As Austin mentions in a comment on yesterday's post, the 1986 birth year, which includes Phillip Simmonds, Scoville Jenkins, Brendan Evans, Scott Oudsema, Nikita Kryvonos (and Alex Kuznetsov, who is actually a 1987 but is considered part of that group, all of whom bypassed college) hasn't fulfilled expectations at the pro level, given their excellent junior results. Cronin says, "U.S. Player Development is now stuck with arguably the least promising generation of young pros in 40 plus years of the Open Era."

Cronin goes on:

Blake has seen plenty of hotshot youngsters arrive in the past year from foreign soils — among them seventh ranked Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina, No. 20 Marin Cilic of Croatia and the highly talented Latvian teen (sic, Gulbis is 20), Ernests Gulbis. Two of those kids, Del Porto and Gulbis, are playing San Jose this week and both have the potential to make serious noise all year long.

But when true up-and-comers are discussed in the hallways of the major tournaments, it's those names that are the ones that come first to the lips. Outside of a rare mention of Querrey, no young American name is shouted down the tunnels.

"Everyone of them is enormous," Blake said. "They already look like men and developing early will give you an advantage to compete at this level. At 18 or 19, if you put me against Del Potro or Gulbis, you would have laughed. I was 150 pounds. It wouldn't have been fair. It took me longer and maybe will take some of our guys longer."

Taylor Dent then goes on to stick up for Michael McClune, and Cronin concedes that the older Americans are "pretty supportive of their peers, so it's no surprise that they aren't incredibly disturbed by the fact that of the top 10 U.S. guys, only two are under the age of 26. They are getting used to a brave new world of tennis where the top four men are a Spaniard, Swiss, Serbian (Novak Djokovic) and Scot (Andy Murray)."

I would argue, as I always do, that "player development" has very little to do with the ascendancy of those four. Am I wrong?

For the complete Cronin story, click here.


Rad-aholic said...

I would agree with Cronin but I know that Timon Corwin and Patrick McEnroe are doing their best to encourage these kids to at least attend a year of college to get some more experience before heading out on the tour right from the juniors. I saw Corwin speak this weekend at the USPTA conference in Detroit and he said they are working on ways to encourage kids to attend college and keep their game up during the summers and I have to agree that it's all about making the game FUN for the youngsters so they stay in it long enough to develop into pros.

kdt said...

I was at the USTA's new facility for that tournament. It's very nice, though a number of the players commented on the lack of ventilation. It's far from plush, however; industrial carpeting and hard flooring, cinder-block walls, some nice club-type furniture in the viewing area. The locker rooms are not terribly large - with 12 courts, they really don't need to be - and I would consider them on par with what you'd find in an mid- to up-scale health club.

What mystifies me is the cost. 12 courts for $60 million? That's $5 million per court! Okay, that's not fair because there is a fitness center, the locker rooms, the viewing area, etc. So look at it another way: The per-square-foot cost of the facility is a whopping $245 per square foot - for a facility that is almost half tennis court (12 courts would cover roughly 135,000 square feet).

I would love for the USTA to provide an accounting of exactly where its members' $60 million (much of it borrowed) went. If anyone sees a pig flying, let me know . . . in the meantime I'm not going to hold my breath.

Marcia Frost said...

Congratulations to Cory & Ester and all the winners. I too forgot this tournament which has always been one of my favorites. I covered it for many years and it slipped my mind this year with the move from NY.

mbd said...

Amen to KDT
Money that the USTA has is being allocated improperly or at best inefficiently. Instead of encouraging the point-race in junior rankings(which puts more money into USTA hands)start paying attention to the hungry kids out there playing these tournaments. You will find the kids who REALLY grind and work hard arent always the ones who are winning everything. If parents have plenty of cash they can fly their mediocre kid all over the country to a different "national" tournament each weekend and amass enough points to appear to be at the top of the heap. In reality I watch these same kids get eaten up by most players in the south Florida area. Rankings have their place but not in the development stages of tennis. I believe the USTA would be better suited if they would three or four times a year hold open "auditions" and have the coaches look at the kids who show up, without the ranking info. Look at their desire, heart, athleticism, as well as their strokes. The overall package...for the future; their ability to be molded and crafted into champions, not that they win early on in the juniors just to burnout in the near future. After all isn't this called junior development.

AndrewD said...

Face reality guys: not everyone enjoys school, not everyone wants to do any more than the mandatory amount. Totally pointless in pushing a kid to study if they don't have the interest or aptitude. Much better for them to continue their tennis education in another fashion.

To that end, what the USTA needs to do is find a real world solution to accommodate those kids who aren't ideally suited to college or aren't particularly interested. The obvious solution is an APPRENTICESHIP.

Firstly, don't call it a scheme or a scholarship - those terms don't convey the necessary grit, grime, sweat and effort required. Just call it an apprenticeship and apply it in relatively the same fashion you would if the person were learning their trade as a carpenter, plumber, electrician, etc. Simply put the player in a tennis-related situation (coaching assistant, working at one of the major tennis companies, stringing racquets, working grass-roots for the USTA, etc, etc) working under an approved party, give them enough time-off to play tournaments but allow them to earn their keep without forcing them into an environment where tennis is not their primary focus.

If you want to argue that college allows a person to mature I would counter that working FORCES you to do so and at a much faster rate. I would also argue that on-court coaching during matches, often held as a means by which players learn about the game, actually works to hinder a player's maturity (which develops, in large part, through the ability to process and manage tasks as an individual) as well as their intellectual and emotional development because it builds reliance on a third party. In the professional world, on the court, that party is silenced and players must think for themselves.

If the USTA, Cowin and McEnroe, are serious about doing their best for American tennis they need to start looking at alternative ways to help players. Not that apprenticeships are alternative. In truth, they're fundamental to most cultures and a great number of professions. McEnroe's wife works in the theatre - an industry where people often start in the prop room or rep and either work their way up or find a niche within the industry that best suits them - so the concept shouldn't be entirely foreign to him.

stephen said...

Since everything has come out in baseball, is it possible that some of these young tennis players are using performance-enhancing drugs in order to develop faster? Some of these guys now look like body builders.

Do they do drug testing in tennis?