If American tennis wasn’t bad enough already, we’re on track to the possibility that there will not be an American tennis player at the year end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
If such an atrocious thing were to happen by the end of the 2011 tennis season, it would be the third time in the history of the year end championships that no American is in the top 8 and eligible to compete in the tournament (1986 & 2009). Currently, this is not a problem as there are two Americans in the top 10, #8 Mardy Fish and #10 Andy Roddick. However, these two guys have been playing OK this year but their lack of tournament wins and point acquisition makes me think they’re in the top 10 by an extremely narrow margin.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s no easy feat to be a top 10 tennis player in the world, however; the top Americans are getting at the end of the tennis career rope. I mean, look at Roddick for example, nearing 29 (August 30th), he had a strong start to the year, but then got injured and hasn’t really been the same since, losing early on his best surface – two years in a row to boot! Then there’s aging Mardy Fish, already at the ripe age of 29. Yeah he’s healthier than he’s ever been and has practically been reborn with a new tennis game, but how much longer will his body hold up? Not to mention his general poor performance at the bigger tournaments – bigger tournaments give more ATP points – only making 3 quarterfinals at the Majors in his entire career.
So what’s the deal with this situation? Is the USA just lacking talent? Is the USA more focused on pushing the youth to play the other sports – football, baseball, and basketball? Has tennis lost is luster in the US? In an athletic society overwhelmed with LeBron’s, Bryants, Mannings, and other athletes, it’s obvious that the American youth is more interested in the bling and flash of being on a team. Or is the US just not harboring the up and coming talent? What’s the deal?
I have an idea, however incorrect it might be, it is strictly my opinion. My idea with the lack of American tennis players is the hoops they have to jump through to get a chance to compete, earn ATP/WTA points, and be encouraged by the country they represent. Now I’m not saying that it’s the responsibility of the USTA to send the players all over the world to play tournaments. I am, however; saying that something has to give in terms of providing opportunities for real talent.
I’ve asked around and I’ve heard a lot of the same concerns from the players and the families of those players, “If these youngsters don’t go through the USTA’s academies, then they aren’t supported by the USTA.” So basically, if a child does not go through the Bolletieri Academy, Evert Academy, or any of the other tennis academies that are sponsored by the USTA; the USTA really puts their foot down on allowing them access to wildcards and other perks of an up and coming tennis star.
So why don’t the players just go to the academies? Put simply because they are extremely expensive, I’m talking the likes of one year at an Ivy League University is the same price as one year at one of these “system” tennis academies. If you’re a parent like me, that’s a ton of money to put into a potential tennis career – especially considering the fact that no professional tennis career is guaranteed.
The unfortunate players who don’t have the means to attend these fancy tennis academies, have to take the hardest path possible…doing it themselves. I know, the harder something is, the better you will be at it. There is a problem with that logic, a tennis career is a short career, lasting on average about 10 years (give or take a year depending on injuries); so it takes a few good years to save up enough money to travel the Futures circuit, then play them, then save up some more money for the Challengers circuit, and that’s when they’re probably making enough money to travel to the next tournament. By the time they pick up a sponsor and making enough money and points to travel to the ATP events, they are already in their early to mid twenties. Then it’s just a simple count down to the injuries and the inevitable retirement. That’s best case scenario, if a player is winning matches and tournaments to get the ATP points to enter qualifying rounds at bigger events.
What needs to change? I think the USTA should ease up a little bit on who gets the wildcards and how their system is ran. It should not be based on what path a player has taken, or how much money they have, it should be based on tennis ability. It should be the guy or girl who can outplay everybody and has enough heart to go the distance. The United States should have players coming from all walks of life and not just who’s been developed or groomed by the academy. Remember the last player who was groomed by the USTA that we had? What’s his name? Oh yeah, Donald Young, he had so much hype built up around his game and he hardly made an impact, and quite frankly, he probably wont either. So much for grooming.
I really hope that I get to see more American players come up through the rankings, but honestly it’s starting to look like I’ll be disappointed. I also wish that Fish and Roddick have what it takes to stay healthy enough to give the US one last ditch effort to save the name of American Tennis.