I don't follow collegiate golf, but I do have an interest in professional golf, so I know that many of the international men and women on the PGA and LPGA tours developed their games at American universities. In today's Los Angeles Times, Diane Pucin investigates the globalization of the individual sports of golf and tennis and why the US is no longer likely to return to its hegemony in either sport.
She also quotes Daniel Coyle, whose book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How changed the way I think about that loaded word talent. Although this isn't a quote I've heard from Coyle before, it seems to hit the target.
"Here in the U.S., we've fallen in love with the idea that athletic talent is a gift," he said. "That's a beautiful idea, that a baby is born with a gift, that a Michael Jordan had a divine spark, or that Serena Williams is so gifted that she can just go out and sell tennis shoes. But guess what? Turns out, that idea is fundamentally wrong."USTA's Patrick McEnroe is interviewed about the pitfalls of identifying "talent" too early and again refrains from naming any names when asked about promising juniors. Pucin did make a trip to the women's $50,000 Carson Pro Circuit event last month however, and spoke with Gabby Andrews and her father for the article, while Michael Joyce, the former pro and coach of Maria Sharapova, does throw out a few names, including Andrews, Taylor Townsend (who reached the semifinals in Carson), and his pupil, Jessica Pegula. (There is an error in the story where Pucin says Andrews won the Easter Bowl. She won the doubles, but she was beaten in the singles final by Kyle McPhillips). I would guess that Michael Joyce didn't "see any soon-to-be stars among young American men" primarily because he works in women's tennis, not because there aren't any.
But maybe the key is the "soon-to-be" part. Bruce Jenkins, who covered the Stanford - Florida NCAA women's championship match for the San Francisco Chronicle last month, wrote today for Sports Illustrated about not just the benefits of the college tennis development path, but about the fun and excitement of the sport on that level. Patrick McEnroe (who has obviously been busy giving interviews) estimates that the US might have lost "about a hundred potential top-100 players" (seems high, but dozens, certainly) who skipped college and turned pro before they were ready.
He mentions Virginia's Michael Shabaz as an example of a player who didn't make that mistake, and of course, John Isner is now the poster child of college tennis, although South African Kevin Anderson, who spent three years at Illinois, is currently the highest-ranked former college player at 38. With the entire article so positive and upbeat about college tennis, I feel a bit embarrassed to bring up a point I dispute, but I'll do it anyway. In the final paragraph, Jenkins says, "Isner's enviable career path doesn't seem to have had much impact." I don't know what he's basing that statement on, but I disagree. What Isner (and Anderson and Somdev Devvarman) have shown in the past four years--that a viable, productive professional career is possible after three or four years of college--has made college tennis a very attractive option for juniors with professional aspirations. Would Chase Buchanan, Rhyne Williams, Jarmere Jenkins, Evan King, Raymond Sarmiento, Alex Domijan, Tennys Sandgren have gone to college without that example? It's a question we'll never answer definitively but I don't understand how Jenkins can dismiss Isner's influence on young Americans (or international players, for that matter) as they contemplate their career path.
One of the most recent collegiate success stories wasn't mentioned in Jenkins' article and that's Irina Falconi, who at this time last year was just announcing her departure from Georgia Tech. Since then Falconi has qualified for the US Open, the Australian Open and won the USTA's French Open wild card, and she is now ranked 111. Falconi, the No. 4 seed in the Wimbledon women's qualifying, beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany 6-3, 6-0 to advance to Wednesday's second round, where she'll play Elena Bogdan of Romania. Falconi is one of four US women in the second round, with Alexa Glatch, Lindsay Lee-Waters and Sloane Stephens also advancing in straight sets. Ryan Harrison, who won his second round match today, is the sole American man still contending for a main draw spot.
Guy McCrea's podcast from Day Two at Wimbledon qualifying features Marina Erakovic of New Zealand, Caroline Garcia of France and Frank Dancevic of Canada. Garcia, who is entered in the Wimbledon Junior Championships, reaffirms her intention to play the junior slams this year, which means a final attempt at a US Open title, after falling to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia last year in the quarterfinals.
The draws for qualifying can be found at wimbledon.com.