Tuesday, June 14, 2011

US Presence Lacking in Golf and Tennis; College Tennis Appreciation; Wimbledon Qualifying Continues

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.


observer said...

So now every one is an expert in identifying talent. We will have to read Doyle's book to see what he says but the single quote he provides is unsustainable. Athletic ability is a gift. That is why one 5 year old runs faster than another one, jumps higher, catches the ball better, etc. What you do with this gift is another story. Yes, you can handle the gifts right or wrong. Irina Falconi is a good example. She is quick, she is a battler, she is hungry, she has a crafty game, etc. She does not have the other parts of the athletic gifts that other women tennis players have, such as height, power, etc. Let's watch how far she can get.

Tony Evers said...

Coyle is only going over exactly the same material that coaches have been talking about for decades. Trouble is, he does it with a lot of really feeble arguments and a shaky grasp of how to actually support a conclusion. I think it reads pretty well for someone who doesn't understand what it's like to play sport at a high level or has no understanding of what it's like to have talent and be trying to convert that talent into results. Other than that there's much better ways to spend your money.

Isner? said...

Does it make anyone else angry when John Isner is used as the poster boy for college tennis? He's done a great job, but the guy is a freak of nature. No one else coming out of school is going to be 6'9 with that serve. Kevin Anderson is a similar story. There are more Somdevs out there, but look how dominant he was in college and he's probably never going to crack the top 20.

What I don't hear about are the kids who were promising, went to college, and didn't get any better. Wonder what P-Mac has to say about them? We've lost kids to going pro, but we've also lost them to going to college. Three names immediately come to mind:

Alex Clayton (41 ITF)
Holden Seguso (33 ITF)
Kellen Damico (5 ITF)

Clearly the US is putting kids at the top of the ITF ranks, but we are losing them between ages 18 and 20.

Colette Lewis said...

Isner didn't get tall in college. The point is that in college he had an opportunity to win, face pressure and develop confidence outside the confines of pro tour.

Stephen said...

The advantage to being "lost" to college is that you have a college degree.

And there are way more top juniors who turn pro and never have much of an impact (too many to even name here), than ones who go to college and don't get better.

Jon from PBG said...

observer, the quote is true. Sure you need a baseline of body type and ability. But playgrounds have been full of guys who are every bit the athlete that Jordan was. But the difference is Jordan practiced long and hard and smart to hone his abilities.

As far as 5 year olds running. In a group of 20, a few will be very slow, a few will be very fast, the rest in the middle. But the differences between the very fast and the middle are not tremendous. Proper practice and training evens that field out.

It is a myth that no one else could be Jordan based strictly on athletic ability or that one 5 year old will remain faster no matter what a kid close in ability does as far as training. The difference in the fastest 5 year old and the slowest is great, but the difference between the fastest 5 year old and the next 10 of the group is not. Training can eliminate the 'gifts' advantage. So the quote is 100% accurate.

Coach said...

Training does not make anyone the equal of a gifted athlete. Need to start with talent. Training quality differentiates those already with talent. Most don't want to hear that but it is the painful truth

Craig said...

The quote is ridiculous. Observor is right

b. smith said...

Hard work and deep practice will beat out talent every time. Many times the most talented athletes take shortcuts because they have been told how talented they are, things come easy to them, and they do not feel they need to work on certain things because they are already better.

If you ask the pros who works the hardest, they will say Nadal, Fed, Djokovic, Murray, and a few others. That is not talent, that is work! There are many pros with just as much talent or more, and they just did not take advantage of it and put in the work. People that work really hard look very talented after all of the work they put in. It does not mean they were the most talented in the beginning or middle, they just worked harder than those around them.

Hard work will look like talent in the long run if the base is high enough.

Talentcode said...

It takes both tremendous natural talent and tremendous hard work to be a champion. Without both it cannot happen

bullfrog said...

Talent code has it right! It's "and" not "or"!!