Sunday, October 21, 2007

Of Fifth Slams and the USTA

by Savannah

Lisa Raymond on Women’s Tennis in the United States

Lisa has written a thought provoking article about why the United States isn’t producing female players able to compete at the highest levels in her sport. I think that between us Craig and I have talked about every issue she raises. It’s just nice to see your opinion validated by someone on the “inside”. The article is excerpted below.

Trouble on the home front
Where are all the young American women prospects?

So what's going on? Why is it that the biggest, most powerful, most affluent country of them all can't seem to produce the champions that these other smaller, much poorer countries can? Russia, Serbia and the Czech Republic are just a few of the countries producing young players at a rapid rate.
Sure, we could sit back and point fingers at the decision-makers at the USTA and the hierarchy of tennis in America. We could toss around questions such as, are they hiring the right people? The right coaches? Is it a sound structure? Is their system the blueprint for success or more along the lines of disaster? Maybe they can be held accountable to a degree. But where this issue begins is with the young player and the environment in which she is brought up.

Junior players in Russia or Serbia are willing to sacrifice everything in order to taste success, to get out and find a better life for themselves and their families. They don't know any differently. American juniors lose a match or have a bad practice and they can jump into their BMWs and head home to finish playing Halo 3 on their brand-new Xbox 360.
So what's the solution? Can hunger and desire be something that is taught? From my experience, the answer is no. Sure, everyone wants to be the next Justine Henin, but are you really willing to do the work, make the sacrifices and give up some of life's guilty pleasures in order to achieve such greatness?

When I posted about two very young up and coming American girls from the Florida area a few months back one of the mothers commented on the BMW approach to American tennis and how she had to fight to make sure her daughter understood that she belonged in that environment whether her parents drove a C class or a Honda.

I think Lisa lets the USTA off the hook here. She does talk in the article about the USTA programs in the inner cities and how much it costs to play the sport of tennis but what she doesn’t talk about are the unique problems faced by a player not to the manor born. Donald Young was pushed into playing on the pro level way before he was ready mentally because of financial reasons. He’s backtracked and seems to be doing just fine on the Challenger level building up ranking points and skill. It just makes me appreciate what Richard Williams and Oracene Price did with their daughters keeping them off the pro circuit despite whatever hardships they faced for as long as they could.

But the problem is not just racial; it is, as Lisa says class more than anything else in the States. When Sam Querrey can state on the record that he loves driving his mother’s Porsche more than anything I think he makes Lisa’s argument for her. He is talented. He could be a hope for American tennis. But hey, lose, and I drive Mom’s Porsche and have fun. No big deal.

But the “manor” attitude is not limited to the players. It’s part of the mindset of the USTA. And that is where the problem really is. When you read about how the decision was made to make the United States a hard court nation simply to stop the progress of players from South America you have to wonder what other decisions are made based on class/ethnic/racial bias. These are not easy issues to discuss but they need to be raised in a public forum like Sports Illustrated.

Some tennis heads talked about this situation at least three years ago but no one wanted to hear it and called us “racists” for raising it. With Lisa Raymond talking about a five to ten year drought before another American woman will be able to make a big splash the pressure will be on juniors like Asia Muhammad and Madison Brengle both of whom seem 3-4 years away.
Lisa Raymond on Tennis

Ion Tiriac and the Fifth Slam

Why a Fifth Slam?
(We’ll forget for now that the term “Grand Slam” refers to a home run hit when the bases are full in baseball and gives the home run hitters team four runs.)

To argue why Madrid could host a Grand Slam, the Romanian, 68, lists three points.

The first is that tennis should allow free competition.

"What I am still not satisfied about is the fact that they do not let tournaments compete. I want to compete. Tomorrow I go and ask how much are prizes at Roland Garros. Fifteen million? I go and put down 15 million, but I want to be at the points level of Roland Garros, not at the level of a '1,000.' Let me compete! But the Grand Slams will not let me compete. And neither will the ATP."

The second point of this former tennis player, former coach, former manager, former Romanian Olympic Committee chairman, businessman and banker is that Grand Slam tournaments have reached their limits.

"Unfortunately I don't think that (French President Nicolas)Sarkozy is going to let them build in the Bois de Boulogne to expand, because they already took a lot from the woods. And also they no longer have the (Olympic) Games, that the English took," Tiriac describes the challenges for Roland Garros.

London too faces obstacles.

"You cannot allow that, when you have 200 countries watching on television, the explanation is 'this is London when it rains.' Sport is no longer what is was, it is different from 20 years ago."

And Madrid is the city that according to Tiriac, incarnates more than any other this "new sport," the city that can go beyond the limits of Paris and London. The Magic Box, the fantastic tennis complex that French architect Dominique Perrault designed in the Spanish capital, is his third point.

"Madrid has a very great future, and it is going to have facilities like no other tournament. There is no other which can close three courts in five minutes and keep playing despite the rain," Tiriac stresses.

He notes he has ruled out the Asian option that he contemplated a couple of years ago.

A Fifth Slam?

Wimbledon is the Crown Jewel of tennis isn’t it? How dare Tiriac suggest that any other city, especially Madrid, supplant it? Please note that my tongue is very much in my cheek right now. After the fiasco that was Wimbledon 2007 I’m glad someone has decided to challenge the Grand Poobah’s in London. Not much may come of it but Tiriac has tons of money. Let’s see what happens.

Challenger News

Donald Young will face Robert Kendrick in the Final at Calabasas in the United States Sunday.

Guillermo Coria is rumored to be taking a wild card into Belo Horizonte in Brazil. Gasto Gaudio withdrew.

Not enough players to have a qualifying round in the Rimouski, Canada Challenger. John Isner will be the top seed.

Madrid Masters Television

Good coverage all week except for doubles. It can be expensive to purchase the season pass but it is possible to buy day passes. A day pass might be what a fan would want once you hit the quarters semi's and final for any TMS event. The best on line subscription is still provided by Wimbledon though.

Other Sports

A lot of sports fans will be watching the Formula 1 event in Brazil today where Louis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso's year long soap opera will play it's final act. No lesser racing legend than Jackie Steward commented on it this week. Rafa has commented on it. It's a shame these two greats couldn't find some middle ground. Alonso is said to be going back to Renault next year while Hamilton stays with McLaren.

Pictures of the Week

Elena channeling her inner Bond Girl

The Nadal Men

Uncle Rafael, Father Sebastian, Rafa, Uncle Toni, Uncle Miguel Angel

Serena's World View


Mariya said...

LMAO at the Serena photo and very nice points re: the juniors. It's interesting, I think the "BMW culture" is more a result of social mentality/historical impact than actual . It's not that the "kids in Russia and Serbia" don't go home to play their XBox after a loss, it's that they remember the time that they couldn't, I guess.

BTW - Gaudio is out of all his challengers for the year. He hurt his leg really badly.

Karen said...

Savanna, the picture of Serena is priceless. It is all about her. Indeed.

Mary said...

Great comments about the junior circuit. As a single mom of a 13 y.o who wants to play college tennis and beyond, we see the BMW mentality frequently at tournaments, etc. We can't compete with our car (I drive a 10 year old Mitsubishi) but my son does make up for it in drive and determination. He's willing to practice 4-5 hours a day so he can make it. Will he? that remains to be seen- but he is willing to work and knows what it costs our family...thanks for some great articles.

Savannah said...

Welcome Mary!

Thank you for the complement and your personal observations of life as the mother of a non BMW prodigy.

I wish you, and your son, the best.