I want to share with you my discussion with Aaron Gross, Head Men’s Tennis Coach at University of Portland. We had a talk about the situation with American tennis and the article “McEnroe’s Successor at U.S.T.A. Needs to Hit the Court Running” in The New York Times.
Valery: Actually, no serious analysis was made why USTA PD with $17 million annual budget has failed in producing new American tennis stars.
I think that big salaries of Patrick McEnroe ($1million) and his staff definitely have discouraged them from taking risks.
They need to put a new USTA PD manager on $100K salary plus bonuses for developing top players. But I doubt that it will be done.
Aaron Gross: Why the pressure for champions to be “produced” by federations. Did the USTA really have much to do with Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras, Courier, Chang, Roddick, Williams Sisters, Davenport, etc, etc? Maybe a few little extra perks here and there, but 99% of the work was done by the players, parents, coaches of these players. Uncle Toni deserves credit for Rafa- not Spanish federation. The Djokovic family seemed to have sacrificed everything to help Novak make it- not the Serbian tennis federation. I guess we are all looking for the USTA to justify the money they blow through. But, really do we expect them to be producing these incredibly special players?
Valery: Remember, initially the name of USTA PD was Elite Player Development and goal was producing new American champions. And $17 million budget is more than enough for supporting 170 talented tennis players every year if count $100.000 for one junior player. The issue is that USTA does not know what to do and how to do. They have no plan and no ideas. So, they have chosen the easiest way: create one more bureaucracy with huge salaries and an incompetent boss.
Aaron Gross: I think we are saying the same thing basically. I don’t feel that money is justified in high performance player development. Take that $17 million and build some big outdoor facilities in LA, Miami, Houston, anywhere with good weather and lots of population. Don’t build these facilities out in the suburbs. Find a place close to the bulk of the population. Get as many kids possible playing tennis at an early age. The goal doesn’t have to be to make them champions. Just get them interested in tennis with a good experience with the game initially. Maybe they will decide to play HS tennis. Maybe someday they will have kids of their own and decide to push them towards some of the opportunities available for people that don’t have tons of money to maybe get them to a point where they can earn college scholarships. Imagine a serious grass roots initiative starting now and how important that could be for the game of tennis in 5, 10, 15, 20 years.
Instead of trying to find that “one” 6’5 fifteen year old with the 125 mph serve that may be an eventual top 100 tennis player. Lets try and get 10,000 new players from the age of 5-15 through affordable opportunities close their houses. It wouldn’t take long to pay off. Tennis equipment sales will blossom, TV ratings will go up, and as the generations grow through this love of tennis from the cradle- the sport will no longer be cyclical. There will be enough people in the US from 5-10 simple facilities with enough equipment to serve people that aren’t rich to the degree that they can learn the game correctly, possibly play some tournaments, and gain a fondness for the game that has not been accessible to them in the past. Scrap all of the high performance coaches and budgets. Put it all into growing this game to a robust, recession proof place. Forget about “American” tennis champions. Some will come and some will go, but most likely not produced by this initiative. How many people go to Giant Stadium to watch to soccer teams play against each other that aren’t even American. American’s like to watch great sports. It is a bonus if we are watching American’s when it comes to tennis. Give me Federer v Nadal any day over Isner v Johnson.
We just have to cultivate more people in this country that can appreciate the beauty of the sport- no matter what country the players are from. The 10,000 hard core tennis fans in the US probably watched Nishikori v Cilic. And the tennis fans that tune in for Fed, Rafa, Djokovic probably didn’t watch. Lets create an interest in tennis that teaches people how to play correctly from a young age, how to appreciate the dignity of the sport, the diversity of the sport, and an appreciation that no matter what a players race, creed, color, religion, economic standing- that he/she can make it. With tens of thousands of tennis enthusiasts “getting it” finally at that point- tennis will officially be back in the US- irregardless if there are US champions or not.
Valery: I like your vision much more than an idea of spending money for a few people – “champions”. But I doubt that it will be turned into reality.
Aaron Gross: I agree. Just a voice in the dark.
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