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Sunday, August 25, 2013

What's Wrong with US Men's Tennis; Fourteen Americans Play in US Open First Round Monday; Doubles Draws Posted

With the US Open beginning Monday, several articles on the state of men's tennis in the United States were published today.  Doug Robson of USA Today, in a piece headlined "US Men Not Measuring Up" discusses the disturbing firsts recently, including no American men in the Wimbledon third round this year, and none in the ATP Top 20 a couple of weeks ago (Isner has since returned to the Top 20).

Robson quotes Tim Mayotte, who briefly worked for USTA Player Development and has been one of its most persistent and visible critics since then.

"The model is broken," says Mayotte, a former top-10 player who worked under McEnroe at the USTA but last year opened his own tennis academy a few miles away from the National Tennis Center in Queens.
"They are forced to hit overly aggressive forehands from out of position or weak backhands that get killed," Mayotte says of a problem affecting most of the top American men since the turn of the century, from Roddick and James Blake to Querrey and Isner to lauded youngsters such as Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison.

For me, the most intriguing part of this article is this assertion:

McEnroe hopes young players such as Harrison, 21, and Sock, 20, can develop into elite players and is even more optimistic about a younger group of players who have yet to hit the pros (emphasis mine).

This could very well be true, and who doesn't want optimism? But unnamed younger players have been pointed to for several years now, and professional breakthroughs have been few there.

The aging of the ATP Top 100 makes identifying young players less important than ever unless you believe, as I assuredly do not, that a federation can "develop" a player.

Lindsay Gibbs, a freelance writer who is part of the Changeover website, wrote an article for Sports On Earth with a similar theme. The USTA's Director of Coaching Jose Higueras provided Gibbs with the bulk of her information on the reasons for the decline in men's tennis, and Higueras has been widely cheered on twitter for this quote: "If it was up to me, there would be no wild cards. Wild cards create entitlement for the kids. I think you should be in the draw if you actually are good enough to get in the draw." 

I'm sure Higueras knows as well as anyone the importance of wild cards, and without one, Goran Ivanisevic would never have won Wimbledon, Kim Clijsters wouldn't have been able to say goodbye at the US Open last year, etc. etc.  But if Higueras wants to eliminate or reduce the wild cards in the hands of the USTA, especially those often given to younger players, he is in a position to raise the issue, and should, given his opinions stated in this article.

As far as the USTA Player Development budget, I don't know what Higueras is referring to when he says the USTA pays for junior competition. Everyone who has paid a USTA entry fee knows that money is expected to cover the cost of the tournament, including courts, officials and administration, with the balls the only direct contribution from the USTA itself. The USTA does pay for several of the large ITF junior events in this country, but not the USTA sanctioned junior tournaments.

Gibbs also added on twitter that Higueras brought up his support of the collegiate tennis system in the US in her interview with him, which did not make the final cut in her article. The timing of that assertion isn't the best, given that the USTA failed to give a US Open women's doubles wild card to NCAA champions Sabrina Santamaria and Kaitlyn Christian of USC, but I hope Higueras continues to reach out to college coaches, who are an under-utilized asset and deserve more credit and recognition for their work.

It's being reported that Santamaria and Christian have been promised a wild card for the 2014 US Open, regardless of their performance in college events this season, but they won't know about the mixed doubles wild card possibilities for this year until Monday.

The US Open doubles draws have been released, with girls 18s champions Allie Kiick and Sachia Vickery playing Sharon Fichman and Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada. Boys 18s champions Paul Oosterbaan and Ronnie Schneider will play Brian Baker and Rajeev Ram, and with Ram and Schneider both coached by Bryan Smith, it will be an interesting coaching/preparation dynamic.  NCAA men's doubles champions Jarmere Jenkins and Mac Styslinger of Virginia have drawn No. 14 seeds Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut of France.

There are 14 Americans on Monday's schedule, all in singles, including Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Bradley Klahn, Shelby Rogers and Rhyne Williams.  Ryan Harrison has drawn No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, and is third on Ashe Monday afternoon.


USTA watcher said...

Yes, there is a talented group of American boys coming on like Paul, Kozlov, Tiafoe, Devine, Opelka and others but they are about five years away from making impact. There is size, speed and game there. The only item is going to be who really wants to succeed bad enough.

As far as Higueras, it is time for him to move on. His style is worn out. It is time to try something else. He should show integrity and resign but with the money he makes who would. Instead, the USTA leadership should make the decision.

Time for a USTA Change said...

Giving those girls a 2014 US Open does NOT make up for the blown disaster the USTA made this year! Only a cover up and publicity stunt.

Perfectly clear the USTA PD leadership and system needs to start over. This program has not produced anyone, only complaints, wasted money, high player injuries in boca, over 12 coaches leaving this administration, hiring only foreign coaches. Nothing good has happened.


Not a usta believer said...

Higueras does not spend time in Boca. Maybe 3-4 weeks a year. That is not effort or taking charge of a program. Waste of money and resource. Hiring Rick Macci and Brad Gilbert as consultants is wasting money. Give that huge amount of money for lowering tournaments entry fees or more travel/player grants.

With that money you can buy Jose a house in Boca.

USTA leadership is a mess and disorganized which shows in the lack of results, increased injuries of their own players, reckless dorm activities and on and on and on

Jerry said...

Since Higueras lives in Palm Springs, seldom if ever ventures to development centers, does not go to tournaments, the question is then....What does Higueras actually do?

junior parent said...

The problem is quite simple. First is money! Only the wealthy can afford to pay for the private coaching, fitness, tournament and travel fees to do what it takes to climb up the ranks. The RTCs should be well funded, regulary visited by national coaches,, and have standardized programs from national to help develop kids in the 8-15 year age range. Let them receive help with training costs and LIVE AT HOME. It has become apparent that players are developing at later ages...why are national coaches travelling around the country hosting RTC camps for "elite" 6-10 year olds (the likes of which how the kids are chosen remains a mystery). Stop the dog and pony shows and INVEST in the talent that is clearly within reach.