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Old 08-16-2011, 12:23 AM   #1
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The Decline Of Tennis (in the United States)

John McEnroe and wife, singer Patty Smyth


Just thought I'd separate this from the US Open/US Open Series Events thread. On Tuesday, today as I'm typing this, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO with have a feature focusing on the rise of tennis in other parts of the world coinciding with the decline of tennis in the United States. I have some things to say about that, but first I will watch the special. In the eastern time zone, it airs at 10PM. None other than John McEnroe will be a featured guest. He is obviously a tennis legend. In a preview, I saw him quoted as saying the way we develop tennis players in this country is completely wrong. I am curious to hear him elaborate on that. Also, another guest called American training "soft".

I also invite a conversation from any of you after watching the special on what, if any, parallels can be drawn with the LPGA. Maybe none. Maybe a few small similarities. I don't know what they will say (actually, I never know what McEnroe will say)...so I'll wait until after I watch it to comment.
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Old 08-16-2011, 01:24 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by bangkokbobby View Post
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO with have a feature focusing on the rise of tennis in other parts of the world coinciding with the decline of tennis in the United States. I have some things to say about that, but first I will watch the special. In the eastern time zone, it airs at 10PM. None other than John McEnroe will be a featured guest. He is obviously a tennis legend. In a preview, I saw him quoted as saying the way we develop tennis players in this country is completely wrong. I am curious to hear him elaborate on that. Also, another guest called American training "soft".
The rise of tennis world wide is a fact. The decline of tennis in the USA is BS. With so much money involved, competition in almost every sport is fierce. From the 100 meter race to heavy weight boxing, aces from the Caribbean to Asia and the most obscure countries in the middle of Africa are raising. The USA had it easy in the last century. Now there are almost 200 countries training their youngsters in the sports more suitable for the countries youngsters: India in cricket, Kenya in long distance running, Mexico in Boxing, Dominicans in Base Ball, Norwegians in ski marathons, (for all my DB buddies from Canada) Canadians in Ice hockey, etc.

I do not believe any country trains and prepares their youngster in all sports better than the USA. But super athletes in other parts of the world now have an option to facilities and trainers they did not have before.

The USA will dominate overall, but they do not have hegemony on great athletes.

Whatever John McEnroe or A. Agassi commemt is BS. They were great tennis players but are full of BS. I will listen to other former great USA tennis players. The Williams sisters are holding the prestige of USA tennis. Not because of a decline of tennis in the USA but the increasing interest in $$$ youngsters from countries that make available tennis courts to all.

Just wait for countries in South America, Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe to have tennis facilities open to the general public.

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Old 08-16-2011, 09:40 AM   #3
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I would agree the world has caught up in tennis. But it's more than that. There are few truly great Americans that primarily came through the USTA and junior system recently. Remember that the Williams sisters to a large degree were trained by their father outside the rigid confines the USTA sets up. Without looking it up, how many casual sports fans know who the next best American women's player is? How many casual sports fans still think Andy Roddick is the best American male player? The decline of tennis is more than just development of players. When I was a kid, in the Evert-Connors-McEnroe days, tennis stars were huge in America. Now, I don't know how many casual American sports fans could tell you much about Melanie Oudin, Mardy Fish (the top American male) or Bethanie Mattek-Sands (the top female other than the Williams sisters). Honestly, I wonder how much American sports fans know about Maria Sharapova besides thinking she's hot. But 25-30 years ago even non-American players like Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker and Martina Navratilova were big names. Like boxing, another of my favorite sports (my favorite fighter right now is Nonito Donaire), the interest in tennis is waning in the States.

The Olympics factor into this. When tennis was reestablished as an Olympic medal sport many American press and fans underestimated how that would change the tennis landscape. Most thought the Majors are what matter. The Olympics are an afterthought. But countries like Russia, a hotbed for tennis talent, take the Olympics extremely seriously. Many countries over the last two decades have pumped a lot more money into their junior tennis programs. This is why Li Na's success matters. Now Peng Shuai is also in top 15. China was more interested in doubles players but trust me, they (meaning the government) would like to see nothing more than an Olympic gold medalist (especially if they beat an American or Japanese player in te final). But Li Na, like the Williams sisters, left the rigidity of her country's development program and scored big success out on her own. When she was honored in Beijing after her win in Paris, she did not thank the Chinese tennis federation. But believe me, the Chinese will look at how Li Na did it and adapt. If China gets truly serious about developing tennis players, look out. The stereotype of the small Asian player is hogwash. Li Na is a pure power player. The Chinese will recognize this and recruit bigger stronger players instead of a bunch of finesse doubles players.

Again, I do agree that superior athletes from around the world are playing but tennis has always been a global sport. However, I think McEnroe is right about the US failing to attract a larger pool of American kids to the sport. 25 years ago if a girl wanted to be a big time professional athlete it was basically tennis, figure skating or maybe gymnastics (in the shamateurism era). Oh, and something called the LPGA. Now the are a lot of women on television playing sports leagues like the WNBA, X-Games, beach volleyball. Can you imagine if Diana Taurasi had been a tennis player instead? Or Lisa Leslie? Sue Bird? Boxing, the other dying sport in the States even before MMA, had the same problem. I heard a commentator answer the question of where the great American heavyweights were by saying they're still out there but they're playing power forward in the NBA and tight end in the NFL.

I will watch because for all of his histrionics John McEnroe doesn't BS when it comes to American tennis development. I would like to hear what he says before responding to him. He might say all the things we are saying but add how we can make tennis more attractive to a larger pool of kids. That's the key. For example, when I was a kid everybody played baseball. Now many minority neighborhoods dont even have baseball fields. Baseball is trying to address why so few black players of American descent, not Latinos, are stars in baseball. Players come out of the Domenican Republic because more kids are playing and training hard. It's their way out of poverty in many cases. Today, a lot of urban areas are football and basketball dominated. But it's not simply about expanding tennis to minority areas. It's an economic question as well. How can we get serious tennis training, which is not cheap, to French Lick, Indiana so that the next Larry Bird considers putting his basketball down and picking up a racquet?

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Old 08-16-2011, 09:40 AM   #4
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I don't have HBO so can't watch the series until it's possibly available later on Hulu or something.

Is there any doubt that tennis in the US is in decline? When was the last time there was a grand slam singles champion not named Williams? Venus is now 31 and Serena is 29. They won't be around that much longer. Who is after them?

McEnroe has been very outspoken with regard to how young tennis players are trained. Here are two article from 2010 in which he criticizes the current approach to training young tennis players while promoting his own new tennis academy:

John McEnroe Puts Oomph Behind Alternative Tennis Academy - NYTimes.com

Can John McEnroe's Tennis Academy Lift U.S. Talent? - TIME

Interestingly, the latter article points out that there are more kids playing tennis now. The problem seems to be getting them to the top level. Is this because the current route is to send them full time to an academy in Florida and this is out of reach or simply not desirable for a lot of the most talented kids. McEnroe seems to think so.

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Old 08-16-2011, 10:01 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Blue View Post
I don't have HBO so can't watch the series until it's possibly available later on Hulu or something.

Is there any doubt that tennis in the US is in decline? When was the last time there was a grand slam singles champion not named Williams? Venus is now 31 and Serena is 29. They won't be around that much longer. Who is after them?

McEnroe has been very outspoken with regard to how young tennis players are trained. Here are two article from 2010 in which he criticizes the current approach to training young tennis players while promoting his own new tennis academy:

John McEnroe Puts Oomph Behind Alternative Tennis Academy - NYTimes.com

Can John McEnroe's Tennis Academy Lift U.S. Talent? - TIME

Interestingly, the latter article points out that there are more kids playing tennis now. The problem seems to be getting them to the top level. Is this because the current route is to send them full time to an academy in Florida and this is out of reach or simply not desirable for a lot of the most talented kids. McEnroe seems to think so.
That's a great point. It's the top level training that kids are not getting. Look at Maris Sharapova. She's Russian but was trained at Bollitieri in Florida. Many of the top players at some point came to the States to train at tennis academies. But many of those parents sacrificed the future to roll the dice and pour their finances into their child's tennis career...potential career. As in my previous post, how can we get that kid from French Lick, Indiana or Brooklyn, who can participate in the low cost programs the USTA sets up but not the training needed to be a top level pro, into a serious developmental program?

I'll see what I can do about posting Johnny Mac's segment. But it might be on the weekend. HBO will often post excerpts on YouTube after the initial airing as well.
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Old 08-16-2011, 10:06 AM   #6
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Also, I don't know how much this factors in, but most high schools have a basketball team and perhaps a football team. Many schools don't have serious tennis programs or any tennis program in many areas. I wonder what percentage of public schools have tennis programs. I went to two high schools. In Philadelphia, a private school (Chestnut Hill Academy) which of course had a tennis team...and hockey...even a squash team. The other was a public school in Athens, Ohio (my stepmother was a professor at Ohio University). They had a team but nothing serious. AT CHA, the tennis team players were popular kids like the football players. At Athens, not so much. My point is, American kids in high school continue to develop their basketball and football skills at low or no cost. They great ones get to develop further in college on scholarship. How many public schools have great tennis programs? I'm sure there are some but not to the degree of top level high school basketball and football programs.

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Old 08-16-2011, 10:14 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by bangkokbobby View Post
Also, I don't know how much this factors in, but most high schools have a basketball team and perhaps a football team. Many schools don't have serious tennis programs or any tennis program in many areas.
That's true but hasn't it always been that way even when the US was more dominant in tennis? Or does it matter more now because tennis like all sports is now more global?
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Old 08-16-2011, 01:42 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Blue View Post
That's true but hasn't it always been that way even when the US was more dominant in tennis? Or does it matter more now because tennis like all sports is now more global?
I think both points are true. You're right, that's always been the case. And it's true that in the past we still pumped out great players. I wonder, though, how many of those players came from either privileged backgrounds or families with a strong tennis background, like Chris Evert. Of course, there are always exceptions like Zina Garrison, who came out of the Houston public parks to pro tennis.

But the second point matters too. Because the global pool of talent is greater maybe here in the States we have to try to go beyond what has worked in the past. We need to expand out pool of top juniors. No offense, but nobody in the next year or two excites me. Ryan Harrison is ok, but he lets his temper and immaturity take away from his game at times.

I was wondering. High school football/basketball and college football/basketball will because they actually make money for schools whether it's college ticket sales or booster and alumni money. Could juniors in golf or tennis ever generate enough money to pay for top level development?

One other question. Of the top American LPGA stars under say, 25-ish, who comes from affluent, upper middle class, middle class, or below? Who comes from a sports background. Isn't Morgan related to tennis player Aaron Krickstein? Of course, Jessica Korda's dad is Petr Korda. Her mom was a tennis player too I think. What is the yearly expense to develop a top junior golfer going through whatever is considered the traditional path?

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Old 08-16-2011, 02:53 PM   #9
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But many of the top young players from around the world go thru the IMG/Bolletteri Academy.

The problem is that there are no top American Men anymore and none on the horizon. There had been a long line of good Americans but that has ended. From Stan Smith to Ash to Conners To McEnroe to Courrier to Aggasi to Sampras with a lot of other good players in between.

I don't care about rankings, when not hurt Serena Williams is the best, but age has caught up with her.
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Old 08-16-2011, 06:18 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by xman5 View Post
But many of the top young players from around the world go thru the IMG/Bolletteri Academy.

The problem is that there are no top American Men anymore and none on the horizon. There had been a long line of good Americans but that has ended. From Stan Smith to Ash to Conners To McEnroe to Courrier to Aggasi to Sampras with a lot of other good players in between.

I don't care about rankings, when not hurt Serena Williams is the best, but age has caught up with her.
All true. And I'm glad you mentioned Jim Courier. Sometimes folks skip from McEnroe and Conners to Sampras and Agassi when talking about American men. But Courier was a great player. Multiple Majors and a former world #1.

And you're also right to focus on the men. Although there's not a lot of great Americans after the Williams sisters, there are some decent young players like Christina McHale. And at least Serena and Venus have won Majors in recent memory in the past five years. The men's side is letting us down. Even one true contender winning a few Majors here and there would boost interest. Doesn't have to be #1 in the world, but has to win a Major or two. Andy Roddick is not the answer. His US Open win seems like it happened in another lifetime. He's facing 29 and has not been a serious threat for at least a few years since he was up on Federer at Wimbledon. Then the rains came, they took a delay, Federer regrouped and we haven't heard much except on court temper tantrums from Andy since.
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