"...and Sampras was a different cat entirely."
August 23, 2014 8:48 AM   Subscribe

It's always fascinating to me that the USTA glosses over the substantial success of the new cohort of American women, from Shelby Rogers all the way up to Sloane Stephens. They even do it in this article, just mentioning it in passing and figuratively shrugging their shoulders as if there's no way to comprehend why the clear split in their success at nurturing new talent falls squarely along gender lines. I know two USTA junior coaches in the Boca Raton/Ft. Lauderdale who tell me that literally *all* the USTA has cared about since around 2010 is young men; but what's interesting is that environment of partial neglect seems to have worked pretty well for the junior girls (and it continues).

That said, even with the junior girls, they've made substantial mistakes--remember the ridiculous revocation of funding for Taylor Townsend due to her 'lack of fitness'?

Honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with Pat McEnroe's leadership. He's still dividing his time between broadcasting and player dev, and he hasn't been a great success at either one so far.

It's really clear that the USTA needs someone in that role 100% of the time. Or, as Wayne Bryan suggested two years ago (after the stupid under-10 ball-change fiasco), maybe a better choice is for the USTA to just get rid of that role completely and fund players and coaches individually.
posted by yellowcandy at 3:03 PM on August 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

The article's premise is fundamentally correct, but this characterisation of Isner is a bit unfair: "Last May, there was only one American in the Top 50, and that was the lumbering 29-year-old journeyman John Isner, ".

Dude's been inside the top ten for long periods of time, and the top twenty even longer. But then, the bizarre selection of "last May" was only made to bolster the point, as there are currently 3 Americans in the men's top 50, and 5 in the top 60.

yellowcandy you're correct to call out the difference with the women's success. I wonder how much ties into the criticism in the article that the boys are dropped too quickly. Women's tennis indisputably peaks earlier, and this gap between the two games has widened, in my opinion. I will be surprised - barring major changes in the game - if we ever see another men's no 1. under say 23 years of age ever again. The muscle development most male players are relying on these days just doesn't happen for most guys so close to puberty, esp when they're lanky, 6,4" giants.

I mean, I'm personally not thrilled by the current men's game compared to the more all-court play of yesteryear (volleys 4 life!), so would welcome something that took the emphasis of power and more back onto finesse. But I do think the crying about few American men ignores the cyclical nature of this stuff (I could well say the same about Aussies), and it also ignores the historical context of the cold war - a huge number of the top 100 are coming from the former USSR, where opportunities to play, develop etc were way, way more limited in the eighties and nineties. Americans have a lot more competition these days.
posted by smoke at 4:24 PM on August 23, 2014

Dude's been inside the top ten for long periods of time
Although it seems like it, he's actually only had two stretches in the top ten: one in the spring/summer of 2012 and then another this year, from March to May. Tons of time in the top twenty though.

Re: your point about women peaking earlier, I think the jury is still out on even that--the numbers are skewing substantially older on both tours, but you're absolutely right that it's more pronounced on the men's side. I think that's also why the whole idea of having male players go to college first is a red herring. If NCAA tennis has become a mini-tour of its own, it doesn't much matter if we send our talented juniors to college before turning pro.

One real problem that the USTA has made feints at addressing but never has taken very seriously is the disappearance of free or very cheap public courts across the US. Lots of kids get their first experiences with tennis in those venues--certainly they do in other countries. There was a great program that was part of the USTA's National Advocacy Campaign that they started about ten years ago to build and maintain 250 public courts, but they pulled the funding for it after a year or two. For my money, that's a big part of the solution to the 'problem' (such as it is) with American tennis.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:07 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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