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Friday, March 13, 2009

In Mobile; McEnroe's Remark Got Me Thinking

Our trips to Mobile have always turned out well, but they rarely start that way, what with missing luggage two years ago and seven hours on the Memphis tarmac last year. This year was the exception, with everything going perfectly, although the weather forecast is adamantly stating that rain is coming tomorrow and will likely continue into Sunday morning. I'll try to twitter tomorrow with updates on registration and any other information of interest. For more tournament information, see the TennisLink site.

Today I read the April issue of Tennis magazine cover-to-cover (plane trips are where I do the bulk of my print reading these days) and was interested to find a piece by Peter Bodo on Patrick McEnroe's role as head of Elite Player Development at the USTA (sorry, there's no link available). There isn't much new or controversial in the article, just an introduction of sorts to the changes that McEnroe has made since taking the job last April. There's an upbeat quote from former USTA Development director Eliot Teltscher about the revival taking place in Carson and, of course, several quotes from McEnroe. This one stood out:

People think I identify future champions, but the truth is I don't identify anybody. Everybody knows who the gifted kids are (emphasis mine). My job is to make sure those kids get the best kind of help and support from the USTA.

Does everybody know who the gifted kids are?

I'm more inclined to agree with Steve Tignor, who wrote an entry recently in his Concrete Elbow blog at tennis.com entitled Nobody Knows Anything, a reference to the screenwriter William Goldman's comment about the uncertainty of predicting the Hollywood blockbuster in advance. I've never heard Joel Drucker venture more than a "who knows" when asked about a young player's potential. In my own personal experience, the more gifted players I see, the more confused I am. Take, for example 2004, my first year covering the US Open Juniors. On a "gift" scale, I would have placed Phillip Simmonds above Andy Murray. Simmonds is now ranked 411 and Murray is 4.

Maybe McEnroe is right; maybe everybody does know who the gifted kids are. But the future champions? To quote another famous Hollywood personality, Samuel Goldwyn, “Gentlemen, include me out.”


Port Washington Authority said...

People who don't know much about tennis or players think gifts are all about athletic ability and pretty shots, but they're not.

When I was a kid I went to Harry Hopman for coaching. Mr Hopman said that he looked for athletic ability, natural strokes, determination, willingness to learn and listen and the focus to put their comitment to tennis above everything else. Them's the gifts. Course theres no guarantees but no kid becomes great without having all of those things. Find out whose got them and you'll be more likely to find the next big thing.

Chris Tucker said...

Thinking about McEnroe.....

You are totally right about McEnroe and doubting if he knows what he is doing.(It's ok to say it out loud)
But think about a few other things too:
We still, after one year, have not seen a plan on how the program is going to be run.
Not from McEnroe and not from Higueras either, by the way!
Thank god we weren't holding our breath on that one!
This is no surprise, since neither McEnroe or Higueras have ever had to make a plan before, so why expect them to be able to make one.
We shouldn't be surprised either, I suppose, that the board eccepts this, since it is never about developing players.
It is about creating jobs for boardmembers and and ex-players with no experience for the job at hand.
(You only have to look at former boardmembers now in high positions in the USTA)

And then this hairbrained idea to create Spanish grinders by training mainly on clay, with our Grand Slam event here in the US being on hard and the trend in the world going that direction as well.
Looking at the results of our juniors in Spain, after training there for a while at an academy in Barcelona, have trouble getting out of the qualies.
This after some of those same juniors won future events here in the states on clay the past two years.(You don't think the Spanish coaches decided to send kids to the US and train mainly on hard courts when there top players were having trouble winning grand slam events on hard courts, do you?!)
And this at a time in their development when confidence is key and major changes need to be avoided.
Maybe McEnroe and Higueras need to ask some advice from developmental experts in working with kids in puberty or hit the books and educate themselves.

Chris Tucker

Amtex said...

I agree, McEnroe is dead wrong. It is impossible to tell who is gifted if by gifted one means which kids will be elite tennis players as adults.

Kids who are amazing athletes at 10are many times passed by the late bloomers.

And I also do not agree with the comment that Harry Hopman made. Many champs were not good listeners as kids. McEnroe, Henin, Nadal, Graf all had chips on their shoulders as kids and did not listen much to coaches.

Greatness can come from text book players or renegade kids with bad attitudes towards authority. You just never know.

The USTA's job is to make tennis accessible and cool to as many American kids as possible, provide excellent coaching, and the great ones will emerge.

Tennis Knowledge said...

Chris Tucker.....

Amen. You are on the money. A lot of people should be voicing their doubts out loud about whether or not Patrick knows what he is doing before it's too late. McEnroe and Higueras will never make a plan because they don't know where to begin. Also, how can you devote time to the USA Tennis program when you have ESPN and Davis Cup commitments. The USTA Board has their head in the sand (nothing new).

I won't even comment on the spanish angle that is the current school of thought with the USTA player development because you called it perfectly - hairbrained. What surface did Pete learn to play tennis on? He may never have won the French, but I think we all know his record.

Wake up USTA and stop spending all this money on two guys who know nothing about creating/desiging a successful tennis development program. Working with top pros does not count, as the development has already been done by somebody else.

AM said...

We need more Richard Williams, Mike Agassis, Stefano Capriatis, Gloria Connors and less Pat McEnroes. They may do things their own way but it is hard to argue with results.

The problem for the USTA is they produced great U.S. players but they're not "USTA" products.

I hope I'm wrong because there are some USTA players right now that I really like.

Port Washington Authority said...


What you've said about McEnroe, Graf, Nadal and others is so far from the truth it isnt a lie, its a fantasy.

Devilsadvocate said...

Chris Tucker--

Are you equating that a Spain Future is the same quality as a Future in Rochester, NY and Vero Beach, FL? Do you know what the juniors have been doing in Spain, as it relates to the Futures they are playing?

Doesn't the developmental coach of the year, Frank Salazar has a junior on the Spain trip?

Just because a player trains in Spain for 5 days, 5 weeks or 5 years doesn't make them a grinder. Marat Safin and Andy Murray surely turned out fine on hard courts as they have trained on Spanish clay during their puberty years. Nadal and Ferrero surely play just fine on hard courts. (All 4 players at least got to the US Open Final or finals on a hard court Slam).

There is ONLY one guy in the top 10that doesn't play well on clay, any ideas who that is? In case you are unaware, it's Andy Roddick. How has his results been in Grand Slams over the past 5-6 years?

It seems you are making alot of opinions on your assumptions and not of what is really going on. Just because the USTA is doing it only makes it a firing range to cast critism.

Amtex said...

Port Wash Authority, sorry, you are not correct. You said Mr. Hopman stated their commitment to tennis must be above everything else. Nadal loved soccer and his Uncle Toni had to constantly work to keep him into tennis. His total commitment to tennis came at about age 16, not age 6-12.

Henin had a huge chip on her shoulder, a few at Tennis Club Ciney thought she might be uncoachable....I know, I worked with a coach in our group who worked there. After her mother died she met her coach Carlos and focused on tennis, at age 13 1/2. Until then she was also a soccer brat, and very hard to coach.

McEnroe was not willing to listen as a kid at all. And in his own autobiography he goes on and on about how he LOVED team sports like basketball much MORE than tennis as a kid. He did not fit Harry Hopman's ideals even a little bit as a kid.

Lets debate using actual facts please.

Chris Tucker said...


You are missing the point.
I would have said it was a hairbrained idea as well if the spanish tennis federation decided to start playing more on hard court!
This is not about the USTA, (Allthough the board did go along with it...for the moment), this is about the not having a plan from P McEnroe and Higeuras doing what he is most used to: training the spanish way.
And you are not going to tell me the Qualies are that much stronger in Spain.
And yes, they will be grinding out of necessity.
Anybody that has played in Spain on the red clay would have known how grainy the clay is there and how slow it plays.
That in combination with the cold weather it is at this time of the year, dictates playing from the baseline.
Not bad for them however, just not preparing them to play the majority of the international play today on the faster surfaces and the trend of faster play.
By the way, the red clay at the french open is way faster then everywhere else (in many cases faster then green clay!!)

Everyone can think an idea sounds good, but later rethink it

And I don't get the remark about Roddick.
So he has one surface he doesn't like?
Isn't that the case with all players besides Federer maybe?
Nadal really did not like the faster hard courts and grass at first, but he is one of those players that adjusts well.

So not just assumptions or accusations, just voicing an opinion.
Just put yourself in the shoes as a spanish devilsadvocate and then see if you feel the same way!

Chris Tucker

Port Washington Authority said...


As I stated in my last post, what you wrote is a total fabrication. You're one of those people on the internet who want to sound like an authority but are really only liars.