Down Go The American Men, One By One

It has not been a good start to the French Open for the American men. Patrick McEnroe, when he was the head of the USTA Junior Development program, once claimed that (our) junior players need to hit the ball over the net 35 times in a rally, presumably to be able to play better at the French Open, but if anything this current crop of American men players is worse than prior versions.

Amazingly, so far–and the tournament has only completed its first round–seven of the eight American me who entered the tournament (both John Isner and Sam Querrey are notable in their absences) have bit the dust while only 21-year-old Taylor Fritz, won his match and that was against Bernard Tomic who is hardly a whirlwind on the clay either. Frances Tiafoe, the highest-ranked of the young American men at no. 34, lost in five sets to Filip Krajinovic no. 60 in five sets. Also, going down in five sets of the American men were McKenzie McDonald and Denis Kudla, who both led their matches two sets to one.

Only three American men, Tommy Paul, Bradley Klahn and Steve Johnson faced seeded players, and with the exception of Paul who played no. 4 seed Dominic Thiem, and won one set, the other two matches were both straight-set affairs. Fritz, who has played a full circuit of red clay events in Europe leading up to the French and tallied 12 victories in six tournaments, next has to face no. 18-seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who Fritz beat last week in Lyon. In fairness to the American men, it has not been a good tournament so far for any English-speaking country male players as the only men still alive in the French out of the Americans, English, Australians, Canadians and South Africans are Fritz, Kyle Edmund, Alex de Minaur, Jordan Thompson and Lloyd Harris.

But the American men had by far the most entries in the field when the tournament began and one can only wonder if they will rally in the final two slams of the year because so far they have not fared well in the opening two. At the Australian Open, out of the 13 American men in the main draw, only Tiafoe lasted beyond the second round. Notable Americans still in their 20’s who have seemingly dropped out of competitive slam play include former no. 9 Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison, Donald Young and Jared Donaldson along with Isner and Querrey. The deep crop of young American men who seem to still have a chance to go deep in a slam as Tiafoe did at the Australian reaching the quarter-finals has now been pared down to Tiafoe, Fritz, Riley Opelka and Tommy Paul and the latter two have not advanced past the second round of a slam yet. One wonders if American men’s tennis will ever see the days again of Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, James Blake, Robbie Ginepri and Taylor Dent without ever coming close to matching the results of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang.

It has become much more of an international sport in the 21st century, but not for only one American male player to reach the second round of the French Open is setting a new record of tennis futility.

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  • Scoop Malinowski · May 29, 2019 at 6:51 am

    But with different draws Wimbledon could be a whole different story. Let’s see if it happens again in London before we start shoveling dirt on American mens tennis. And let’s wait and see how far Fitz goes, one hero can carry the whole country. You forgot to mention Sandgren who lost in four sets to Albot who is having a career year.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 29, 2019 at 8:00 am

    Are you kidding me, Sandgren has completely imploded this year, Scoop, what are you talking about? The guy had to qualify for the French. The fact he could only take one set off of Albot, who’s a nice player, but not anything special on clay, speaks volumes about how Sandgren has fallen. Tennys started the year at no. 41 and now he’s ranked no. 100. He hasn’t won an ATP match since Auckland. He lost first round in both Indy Wells and Miami.

    Career year?! He’s going in the direction of Harry and Young.

  • catherine · May 29, 2019 at 9:07 am

    I think Scoop meant Albot is having a career year ?

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 29, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Sandgren losing to Albot is not a shock or bad loss, Albot is having an astounding year, beaten Kyrgios, won a title, almost beat Federer in Miami. Sandgren played his best tennis in January winning Auckland or was it Sydney, but has faded since then. Tough draws. He is currently coachless after dropping Carsten Ball in April in Monterrey. I’m recommending he try to connect with Salzenstein or Mayotte, both are interested to help him.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 29, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you for pointing that out, Catherine, I thought Scoop in his love for Tennys was seeing things through rose-colored glasses for the Tennessean. I think Albot is mostly a hard court player. He hasn’t had much success on the dirt. He’s a guy you’d think if Sandgren was playing well, he might knock Albot off.

  • Vijay · May 29, 2019 at 10:33 pm

    There’s a simple reason we won’t see lots of Americans doing well in singles. It’s that they don’t have good backhands. Americans (both men and women) tend to hit two-handed backhands, with the right hand (for a right-hander) somewhere in between an Eastern forehand and Continental grip. This means they don’t (and cannot) get a lot of top-spin on the ball. Look at any of the players mentions (except for Fritz). They can’t drive their backhands crosscourt with pace and spin, can hit cross court short-angled balls, and can’t consistently go up the line or inside out on backhands for winners.

    This means that there is a huge gap between their forehands and their backhands. This might have been okay 20-30 years ago, but nowadays American players are playing every match with a huge disadvantage, one that forces them to expend more energy than necessary, and costs them a lot physically.

    As a contrast, look at Felix A-A. He has clearly modeled his forehand after Federer and his backhand is some version of Djokovic’s. He can do all the things mentioned above — drive cross-court for power and spin, hit short angles, and drive down the line for winners or to set up winners. There are no technical weaknesses in his groundstrokes. He clearly doesn’t have a clay-courter’s mentality, but that’s something that can be learned.

    But American men seem to be playing at an unnecessary disadvantage, and I put it all down to how they are trained and taught in their youth.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 30, 2019 at 6:15 am

    Thanks Vijay for your comments. I am not so technical on grips and hit myself with a one-handed backhand, not a very good one, but I can slice the ball well, how should the right hand on the racquet be gripped to do the things a player needs to do to hit the shots you mention? Should he hold the racquet with the right hand in a Semi-Western grip.

    I’ve been impressed with Tiafoe’s backhand and Fritz’s. Yes, Isner, Querrey and of course Steve Johnson’s backhand are all on the weaker side. But I can’t believe a country as big and diverse as the US does not have any teaching pros teaching the backhand the right way. This can’t be a national failing. Agassi had one of the best backhands ever. How did he have such a good backhand?

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 30, 2019 at 7:22 am

    Sock, roddick, Harrison, young, Donaldson, also had mediocre backhands. Paul has a good one. Hard to believe all American coaches could be responsible for these average backhands.

  • Vijay · May 30, 2019 at 8:41 am

    Hartt, Andre and Djokovic and Nishikori and Nadal and all the others with great two-handed backhands hold their right hand (left for Nadal) with a continental grip, essentially what they use to serve. A semi-Western grip means you can never have a straight right arm at the point of contact. Look at any videos of Andre or the other players mentioned above (especially Nadal) and you’ll see how straight the arm is. That’s what lets them come over the ball. With a semi-Western grip, there is little to no chance of being able to do that, especially if the ball is hit with a lot of topspin and loop to the backhand.

    I’m as surprised as you at the terrible backhands people have here. I think there’s a simple reason. Coaches want to please parents who want their kids to succeed. One way to do that is to have a big forehand (think Roddick), and one way for kids to do that is to play with an extreme semi-Western to Western grip. That makes it very hard for the player (typically, a kid) to change back in time to hit a backhand. So as a makeshift, they hit backhands holding the right (say) hand in an Eastern forehand or even semi-Western grip.

    In a sense, coaches are just responding to incentives. They want kids to do better at a younger age, and this is one way to achieve that.

    This doesn’t matter so much for kids, but when they get older, they find that their backhands are just so much weaker. Why doesn’t this happen in Canada or Europe? No idea. I assume it’s because federations there have better structures and are involved at an earlier age with training kids, and can deflect some of the pressures (especially financially) that kids and their parents might feel. Maybe there’s something else.

    Regardless, it’s very unfortunate that the land of Andre doesn’t have anyone capable of going both ways with the backhand. Or coming over it on a return of serve.

    Scoop, I don’t think Paul has a good backhand. As you know, I spent the better part of a week looking at his strokes. His backhand can’t produce winners. Can’t control rallies. It is not an obvious liability, but if you’re in trouble against him, you hit to his backhand and you have a chance to reset the point. With Felix A-A, for instance, it’s so much tougher to reset the point because his backhand is a real weapon that can do damage.

  • Hartt · May 30, 2019 at 8:59 am

    Vijay, I think your response is directed to Dan, but I found it very interesting.

    I can speak a bit about Canadian tennis. Tennis Canada had a huge overhaul over 10 years ago now, and brought in Louis Borfiga from France to change things. He in turn brought in many European coaches who are still involved with Tennis Canada. Presumably they use a European approach with the BH.

    FAA is a great example. He started working with Tennis Canada at a young age, and went to their national training centre in Montreal in his early teens. His current coaches, both with Tennis Canada, Fred Fontang and Guillaume Marx, are from France.

  • Vijay · May 30, 2019 at 8:59 am

    Sorry, first part of the response was obviously for Dan.

  • Vijay · May 30, 2019 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for confirming my suspicion Hartt. It’s also good to see that something good can happen when a national federation takes the initiative.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 30, 2019 at 11:12 am

    Vijay the grip guru should be hired by USTA as a backhand consultant 🙂

  • Vijay · May 30, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Hartt, thanks again for your response. It fills my heart with joy (as a professional economist) to see that changing incentives changes behaviour and outcomes, just as we hope and expect they would.

    I’m assuming these Tennis Canada coaches aren’t motivated by short-term outcomes, like performance in U-12 etc, but instead by long-term development. By motivation, I mean their salaries and contract renewal etc.

    Of course, producing aesthetically pleasing players like FAA is another welcome consequence. But now I am happy on two counts!

  • Vijay · May 30, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Scoop, happy to do it. Even pro bono. As long as they give me good seats at the US Open. (And move the AO to Miami. Yeesh! Melbourne in January!)

    But more seriously, it’s more than the grip. With an Eastern forehand or semi-Western grip for the right hand on the backhand, it is virtually impossible to get solid hip and shoulder rotation on the stroke. If you do rotate your shoulders and try to come over the ball, it will feel like you’re shovelling dirt.

    Look at Andre’s or Nadal’s backhands and see how much hip and shoulder rotation they have on their strokes. It’s impossible to produce that without a continental grip. So the grip is only the first step . . .

  • Winston Smith · May 30, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve been waiting for this discussion…at what point is it reasonable to conclude that the USTA is simply a “failed organization” especially as it relates to player development? The fact that CANADA has figured it out should be a total embarrassment to USTA. It would be like the US beating Canada in curling…wait that did happen!

    I keep hearing (and will likely keep hearing), “we’re on track!” “this next generation will break through!” “we have a new Director of Player Development (with new approach..Play/train like the Spanish/French/Germans/Canadians??)”

    Case in Point: I watched Taylor Townshend’s French Open firt round match vs. Muguruza, the kid can really hit the ball…but that’s all she does. Very poor accuracy with her shots, little strategy was evident, poor shot selection, court positioning was poor (5 ft. behind baseline AND backing up,) and fitness?? (no need to elaborate.) She’s 24 years old, former number one junior in the world, “the next Serena.” My take away from watching her play is … POORLY COACHED!!!

    Who is responsible for her coaching and development?

  • catherine · May 30, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Tayor Townshend – At 24 years old I’m afraid it’s not just the coaching – it’s her. Coaches can’t work miracles – or make bricks out of straw.

    If you really want to see a ‘failed organisation’ just look across the pond at the LTA.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 30, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    Good points Winston. Canada is way ahead of us. They are better organized and have better people in positions of influence. And it’s absolutely ridiculous that the head of Orlando development wasted his time hounding Ryan Harrison for his tweet about saying Donald Young can relate to Jussie Smollet’s fake racial hate crime and also hounding Harrison for comparing Tiafoe’s celebration to LeBron James. Blackman actually made issues of these two incidents with Harrison who said screw you and your coaching I don’t need USTA coaching, I have my own coach. For Blackman to stick his nose into Harrison’s tweets and comments shows a severe lack or priority in Orlando under Blackman’s guidance. To clean house and replace the staff with fresh new energy like Tim Mayotte, Wayne Bryan, Jeff Salzenstein, Larri Passos, etc. would not be a bad idea at this point.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 30, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Catherine it’s not on Townsend. She is was a major talent, she proved she was extraordinary in the juniors. She was the perfect tennis computer but the software that has been installed in that computer has failed. Just like the junior player I told you about who is taking the software from a failed average outdated coach who has never created one single pro, while a great coach who has created a world no. 1 junior and other high level junior and pros and worked at the Olympics and Davis Cup is available and wants to coach her.

  • Hartt · May 30, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Especially once they are pros the players have to take some responsibility for their coaching choices. Taylor has been with Donald Young Sr. for several years, and many people think this is a terrible idea. But, in the end, it is Taylor’s choice to remain with him.

  • Hartt · May 30, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    One thing that Tennis Canada seems to understand is that they can’t produce top players, but they can assist in the players’ development. For example, they have a program in place to help top juniors make the transition to the pros.

    They do get criticized for being somewhat rigid, and for not doing enough for players outside their system. I don’t know enough about the organization to know if these criticisms are valid or not.

    Players like FAA and Bianca have many positive things to say about the training they received under the Tennis Canada umbrella.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 30, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    Canada is the clear leader now in developing young talent. That is undisputed. America has stuck with the same roster of coaches for many years now and it keeps getting the same results. And some of the better coaches like Brian Boland and Tim Mayotte have departed in disgust.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 30, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    Looks like Serena is copying Osaka’s hairstyle, colors too. “Imitation is suicide.” “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”?

  • Vijay · May 30, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Scoop, I think you found the solution. Get rid of everyone at USTA and get everyone from Tennis Canada. Throw oodles of money at them at give them free rein.

  • Vijay · May 30, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    It’s ironic that in tennis, one of the most competitive sports (in terms of outcomes, compensation etc), the safest way to make a fantastic living and have minimal competitive pressures is to be an administrator with USTA or LTA.

    How do we measure the performance of USTA administrators? Is there a board that they are responsible to? How are they incentivised? My understanding is that the USTA won’t let juniors play in their tournaments unless they have accumulated enough points and paid lots of membership dues etc. They also seem to be motivated by increasing membership instead of by producing better and more well-rounded players.

    Who was the last US champion supported by the USTA? I know it wasn’t Agassi or Sampras or any of that group. And certainly not the Williams sisters.

    You wonder why the USTA even exists. The answer is probably clear. Because there is no competition.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 30, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    Vijay, a lot of high profile Americans have shunned the USTA’s help too, even way back in juniors. I hear a lot of discontent by juniors and parents about USTA methods. It’s a significant story but no one will write it for obvious reasons.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 30, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    Truly woeful that all the American men are out of the French by the second round and Fritz got fried by RBA. Scoop, I told you Albot was not that good a clay court player. He only took one set against Struff, who’s a nice player, but only ranked #45. The USTA has to show some goods soon.

  • Vijay · May 30, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    Dan, what happens if the USTA doesn’t show any goods soon? I don’t the USTA board cares enough. This is a problem that has been a long time in the making. Only a wholesale change in the organisation will do, nothing piecemeal. By the way, good coaches are easy to find (as Tennis Canada has figured out). Changing the incentives in an organisation, especially in one like the USTA that faces little to no competitive pressures nor has any reasonable oversight, is well nigh impossible.

    So I think good American kids should move a little further north (to Canada) and then play in Florida in the winter (with the Canadians).

  • Hartt · May 31, 2019 at 7:48 am

    Lots of $ for federations is not the answer. Tennis Canada owns the Rogers Cup, so gets the profits from that tourney. I imagine many federations would be thrilled with that sort of income, but it is peanuts compared to what the USTA and LTA get from their nations’ Slams.

    Michael Downey, who was CEO of Tennis Canada before going to the LTA for 3 years, was in a good position to compare the 2 systems. (He returned to the Tennis Canada position, saying he and his wife were keen to come back to Canada.) He said that Tennis Canada, with limited resources, had to be very careful how they used their funds. He felt that the LTA had so much $ that they did not necessarily make the best decisions on how to allocate those resources.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 31, 2019 at 7:49 am

    The USTA was not needed to create Agassi Sampras Courier Chang was it?

  • Dan Markowitz · May 31, 2019 at 8:58 am

    I think to a certain degree it was, Scoop. Otherwise, why build a multi-million dollar training facility in Orlando? Why shuttle in kids like my son’s doubles partner in the upcoming clay and hard court summer Super Nationals to gratis one-week national camps where they work these kids hard? Yes, the USTA is trying to create the Next Great American Male Player, it’s just not happening.

    For Fritz to get tuned by RBA yesterday after he beat him last week in Lyon makes you shake your head. Here’s a guy who seemingly did everything right. Embraced the red clay of Europe, played in all the clay tune-up events and then gets like 10 games total in a second round RG slaugter. You have to wonder how these guys like Fritz and Garin of Chile who won Houston, but got killed by Wawrinka yesterday at the French, do so well in the tune-up events and then can’t get past the second round of the French.

    If I was the USTA, I’d give Courier and Chang a lot of money to come in and create the NGAMP.

  • catherine · May 31, 2019 at 9:07 am

    I once wasted too many hours in my life wondering what the LTA was there for, apart from hiring a large staff and spending pots of £s on PR. Ostensibly it’s there to oversee the development of the game in the UK but the public perception is of a governing body whose job is to produce Wimbledon champions and the LTA’s effectiveness is, unfairly I think, judged on that.

    A while ago the LTA cut funding for a number of young players because attitudes were found wanting and results weren’t coming. It then got a lot of criticism but the fact was there were numerous young persons doing nothing much apart from hanging around Queen’s Club and Roehampton waving tennis racquets and having a good time. No unsung champions among them. So you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t from the LTA’s point of view.

    Centralisation in London hasn’t worked too well and I’m afraid I don’t know what happened to a plan for regional centres. Tennis isn’t played much in schools – it’s expensive – and girls in particular tend to drop out of the sport in large numbers when they hit adolescence. (I’d like to see Judy Murray involved in that kind of area but her efforts are concentrated in Scotland, naturally.) Track and field attracts girls, and boys go for football. Clubs are a bit snooty, although not quite as much as they’re portrayed. But I think kids have to belong to a club to be eligible to play junior events which could be an issue, although I’m not sure about that. Tennis is an individual sport. Mass production isn’t a solution. Maybe the LTA should just go on tipping money into facilities, maybe fund more public courts, underwrite British tournaments etc.
    I can’t honestly see any other course of action. Except maybe cut the Chairman’s salary. That might stop the mass moans after W’don each year.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 31, 2019 at 9:26 am

    Because the big players don’t prioritize the smaller tune up events, they peak for the majors. Sampras said it best, Nobody remembers who won Philadelphia… I have been to Orlando and it’s a luxurious, perfect place. Not sure if it’s the best setting for a young player to develop. It’s been said the USTA spots the best talents and then favors them, which gives the young talent the impression that they are future stars and will have pro careers.

  • Hartt · May 31, 2019 at 10:00 am

    It must be hard for a federation to balance its roles in growing the sport generally and also developing top players. Although if there are some top players in a country, it does create more interest and more people wanting to try the sport.

    Tennis Canada publishes statistics that show tennis is growing quickly in Canada. Sometimes I wonder if those figures are somewhat rosy, but the positive trend is there.

    One of the members of Match Call Migrants is taking coaching courses, and he posted the pathways that Tennis Canada has laid out for both amateurs and pros, and it looked like a sensible system.

    I think plenty of public courts is also crucial. I learned tennis on public courts, both as a kid and as an adult, with free lessons. I was never going to be a particularly good player, but enjoyed tennis a lot, and there were lots of people like me. Those facilities were supported by the cities where I lived, rather than a national federation, so that is another resource.

  • catherine · May 31, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Hartt – public courts have always been a bit of an issue here because they are funded by local government and that varies from borough to borough according to party priorities, and the money available is also affected by the policies of central government. And I’m not sure what part the LTA plays in that now.

    A friend of mine is involved in a scheme in London where free lessons are available for children every week, using courts owned by Merton Borough. I might post something about that some time. There may be more similar initiatives around London – I don’t know. There are some public courts near where I live but I hardly ever see them used.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 31, 2019 at 11:19 am

    Federer has played jos 400th Grand Slam match today. Feliciano Lopez played this week at Roland Garros – his 69th consecutive major main draw since 2001. Lopez is the all time tennis iron man.

  • Hartt · May 31, 2019 at 11:33 am

    Catherine, that is a shame that the public courts near you aren’t getting much use. I live near a park and there are just 3 courts there, but they are in constant use. There is also a tennis club at one edge of the park.

    One of the Tennis Canada initiatives was to train volunteers to run tennis programs in small communities that wouldn’t have tennis otherwise. The federation provided the equipment – nets, racquets, etc. A lot can be accomplished with little $.

  • catherine · May 31, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Just out of interest I googled tennis courts in my area and discovered quite a few – some of them the local Borough has contracted out to a company which runs low cost and free court time and lessons. That’s probably the way things are going now. The Crystal Palace Sports Centre also has several courts – it’s a large centre for a range of sports (I live near Crystal Palace). Years ago the WTA held a tournament there – BJK Played. It was funny – you could hear splish splashing from the swimming pool at quiet moments and smell the chlorine 🙂

    That volunteer scheme by TC sounds a good idea – it would be useful in places far from London where facilities are limited or non-existent. I’m pretty sure something like has been suggested here but these projects generally depend on someone’s enthusiasm and they come and go.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 31, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    I remember living in London (Earl’s Court) in 1982 and there were very few public tennis courts. There’s not a lot in New York City either except for Central Park. It’s amazing what’s happened in the U.S. The local towns sell out their public courts to private tennis organizations that charge like $120 for a private lesson. These courts used to be available to everyone for a fee like $60 for the whole summer and now in most towns these private organizations have risen the rates tremendously.

    I heard Chris Evert say when she was a kid in Ft. Lauderdale her dad ran the big public facility, actually where Callum is going to play Clay Court Nationals in July, and he charged $5 for 30 minutes, private lesson. Those days are long gone and the considerable cost and monetization of tennis and tennis lessons has contributed more than anything in my mind to why the U.S. has such feeble men’s tennis players. It’s much easier and cheaper to play baseball, basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 31, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    Here’s Jon Wertheim’s take on the American men’s one win at the French:

    “With Taylor Fritz’s straight-set defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut, there are officially no American men left in the Roland Garros draw. The only win in this event on the men’s side, for a country with 350 million people and an extra wild card into the draw, was over Bernard Tomic, who looked like he’d rather be doing many other over playing tennis. Yes, John Isner and Sam Querrey didn’t post and Jack Sock, who can play on the dirt, wasn’t ranked high enough to get in the draw. Still, it was just an abysmally brutal week for the Americans, and if American Men Tennis was a business, these quarterly results would be deemed unacceptable.”

  • Winston Smith · May 31, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Glad I was able to get a spirited discussion rolling…lots of good points. It’s not a matter of money. The USTA’s US Open throws off $100’s of millions of dollars each year, net profit.

    Where does it go?
    -Bureaucracy (lots of meetings to attend, flying around the world)
    -Vanity Projects (see Lake Nona)
    -Social Justic Initiatives (btw when will the next African American male Grand Slam winner arrive? after the first one Arthur Ashe….nearly 50 years ago!)

    Now that the failure of the US men is comprehensive, is it time to clean house?

    It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of brains and coaching talent, a large part of which is the ability to assess and spot talent. Hint: size does not equal talent!

    The current #1 woman player in the world, Naomi Osaka, was rejected by the USTA! In spite of being an American, born and raised, she now plays for Japan, which, in spite of being a pretty xenophobic nation, has embraced her as a national hero.

    Good job on “talent identification” USTA!

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 31, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    Well, let’s start naming names – Martin Blackman, Eric Nunez, Diego Moyano, David Nainkin, who else is responsible for this catastrophic failure?

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 31, 2019 at 5:38 pm

    Winston I have heard the same thing, that the USTA rejected the chance to support Osaka and chose Keys instead. Even major figures in US tennis have contradicted that and said the contrary. Damage control.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 31, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    You’ve got to include Jose Higueras and Pat McEnroe in the fiasco. I like Pat. Jose is a real nice man. But they didn’t lead the USTA to any greener pastures.

    My son played in the New York State High School Championships this week at the US Open. There was one black kid that I saw in the 32-boy draw. One! So you ask what’s happened to the Next Black American Champion? That’s been a colossal failure. This boy, Keon Armstrong, 6-4 basketball player who was also the #1 seed out of his section, is a nice basketball player, but as a tennis player, his game was raw.

    The top black American men of last have been James Blake, and his family had money, hence they lived in Connecticut, and strong parental guidance. Other than that there’s been Donald Young and his story is as much a failure of the system as it is a triumph. And then Frances Tiafoe and Michael Mmoh are both black players who came from different countries so they were open to trying tennis. The USTA has failed to develop any black American male players because they’ve failed to mine that tremendous talent pool the way the French obviously have with Tsonga and Monfils in a much smaller black population.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 31, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Dan, you forgot one detail about Blake, he is half black half white. As is Felix. As is Keys. So you saying Blake is black is about as accurate as me saying he’s white. Tiger Woods is actually only 25% black, he’s 50% Thai and 25% American Indian I believe. His mom is 100% Thai.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 31, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Most African-Americans and Canadians have white blood in them. They’re still called black. Barack Obama has a white mother, but he’s not referred to as being white. Regardless of the percentage of race, the fact that since Ashe won the US Nationals in 1968, more than fifty years ago, the fact that there’s only been one other black American male to make a GS finals and its only happened once, is amazingly disappointing. I mean come on man, if they gave you and me $5 million tomorrow I bet we could find and develop the Next Great American Black Male player.

  • Vijay · May 31, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    Dan, don’t be so sure. In fact, I’d be willing to bet a lot of money you won’t be able to. As Hartt noted, Tennis Canada has (rightly) realised that building the next GS champion is an impossible task. There are too many unknowns and too much randomness. All you can hope for is to set kids up with good technique, good attitude, and some maturity about tennis and life, so as to transition successfully to the pros, or just life in general.

    I think one of the mistakes the USTA has made is in having one big center in Orlando instead of lots of smaller centers throughout the country, or at least along the coasts. Let these centers be independent and try different things. See what succeeds and learn from that. Experiment. Let there be some competition, the one ingredient lacking within the USTA.

  • Vijay · May 31, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Winston, I think the last thing we want to assume is that the people running the USTA are stupid. Instead, the conclusion to be drawn is that they are interested in something else. Or, as I tell my students, They are maximising something, it’s just not what you hoped it would be.

    Jose Higueras is a great coach, and Pat McEnroe knows a lot about tennis. But is running a big organisation, recruiting talent, taking care of financials etc, all something they do well? It takes a team, and clearly Tennis Canada has separated these tasks well.

  • Hartt · June 1, 2019 at 7:56 am

    Louis Borfiga, head of high performance at Tennis Canada, talked about what he looks for in a kid. He is interested in athletic ability and attitude, saying the tennis skills can be taught, but basic athletic ability is crucial.

    Tennis Canada has also changed the approach to the national training centre. Now they have 4 kids in Montreal, with other young players receiving training in regional centres such as Toronto and Vancouver. They no longer have girls at the national centre because they found the girls did not fare well far from home. In large countries like Canada and the US this is a big concern.

    Federer talked about being extremely homesick when he left home at 14 to train at Switzerland’s national centre, and he could go home on weekends. His mother said it was a good thing the decision to go there was entirely Roger’s, because she doubted he would have stuck it out otherwise.

  • Vijay · June 1, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for the information Hartt. Tennis Canada seems to have found some very thoughtful people to run their program. People who understand that they are dealing with kids.

    However, one issue with their approach is that they think they can always identify good athletes. This is hard to do with 9-14 year olds, in that you can make both Type 1 and Type 2 errors. A good example is Harry Kane, captain of England’s football team. He was a famously chubby kid. One would imagine that he might have been rejected by these criteria.

    You also want to look for emotional and physical maturity and intelligence. But this is all hard to do. Look at a young Boris Becker. Naive as could be about the world and yet had the intelligence of a wizened old pro on the tennis court.



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