Monday, March 1, 2010

Money Makes The World Go Around...

by Savannah

The State of Australian Tennis

I stumbled upon the following report on the state of tennis in Australia after I wrote the part about Ernests Gulbis and the state of American tennis. I wonder if such a program would ever be aired here. The main report is about 45 minutes long so make sure you have the time to sit through it. There are also interviews with some of the principals. Stunning piece of work.

Tennis Australia

The New Big Thing

“I felt comfortable,” he said. “I like being in the final. I was not putting pressure on myself. No one does that. My father never put pressure on me to play tennis. He let me do what I wanted. At the age of 13, 14, I never practiced more than a few hours a week. I think it is crazy to make kids practice six hours a day.”

Now, there is a back story to this. Most kids who find themselves being forced onto the practice courts are the offspring of parents who do not live in the Gulbis financial comfort zone. Ainars Gulbis is an investment businessman and, reputedly, the third richest man in Latvia. It has been known for young Ernests to be flown to ITF Futures tournaments in his father’s private plane.

So Gulbis carries a certain confidence about him on the tennis circuit, and if he slams a ball high out of court in frustration – as he did during his first-round victory over the highly promising young American Ryan Harrison – and cops a $500 fine, rest assured the hotel bill will still get paid.

And so it begins. Richard Evans laudatory piece on Ernests Gulbis, who won his first ATP title at Delray Beach Sunday will not be the last. Evans stops short of anointing the young Latvian as the second coming but he comes damn near close to doing so. To take a phrase from a totally different world "let the player play". We'll see how Mr. Gulbis fares against the big boys.

The State of Men's Tennis in America

I don't claim to be prescient. If I was I'd have my own 800 number right? But it brings a smile to my face when mainstream tennis media catches up to what this lowly blogger has been saying for the past couple of years about the state of American tennis. Who is there after Serena Williams and Venus Williams? Who is there after Andy Roddick? That silence you hear is the answer. Here are quotes from Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras on the current state of affairs.

Asked about America's bleak prospects recently, Roddick countered, "I would disagree strongly with that. Isner's been playing great recently, and he's shown in the last couple of Grand Slams that he's able to compete. Sam started a bit slow, but you see his ranking's moving up. And I have confidence in James to get back."

Sampras, interviewed at roughly the same time, countered, "It's a little thin. A down cycle right now. The game has spread all around the world, and players are showing up from everywhere. It might take five, 15, 20 years for the U.S. to get back -- hard to tell. I think people got pretty spoiled in the '90s, when there was me, Andre and Jim (Courier), a pretty rare group of guys."

Sports Illustrated
About John Isner and Sam Querrey the author of the article, Bruce Jenkins, says this:
There's nothing inherently wrong with Isner and Querrey, impressively ranked 21st and 22nd in the world, respectively, after Querrey's 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory.
(...)
It's just that there's nothing ... there. The serves are massive, but the groundstrokes -- while perfectly decent -- pale in comparison to the Cilics, Del Potros and Murrays of the world

Take a few and read the entire article as it's posted on The Bleacher Report.
My question is how did we go from top of the world to also ran in so short a period of time? Was it that we got so cocky that the rise of foreign born players, starting with Ivan Lendl, was ignored by us. Lendl wasn't the most charismatic player but he beat the Americans and all he got for his work were sneers from the then powers that be. If you weren't from England or Australia you were just someone playing tennis, not someone to be considered a true champion. There were a few players from the hinterlands that made an impression - Guillermo Vilas from Argentina for example, but as far as the tennis establishment in the States was concerned the potential for foreign born players to become top ten players was something to be thwarted not embraced. Our major tournaments went from clay or grass to concrete and our up and coming players were no longer taught strategy but simply to hit the ball hard and if that didn't work to hit it harder. We're reaping the results of that change and now find ourselves behind the eight ball struggling to catch up with the rest of the world.

I give both Isner and Querrey credit for recognizing their shortcomings and actually playing clay court events to try and acclimate themselves to the surface. And lets not forget Andy Roddick once was more than a serve. He is trying to get back to that place and deserves credit for doing so.

The American tennis establishment is now reduced to picking and choosing which foreign born players are worthy of it's praise. The pressure Tim Henman was under didn't come from his country alone. Despite early reservations Roger Federer has been elevated from mere human to a deity. Scottish born Andy Murray and now Ernests Gulbis are next in line to become tennis gods.

As is pointed out in the SI article we have gone from 43 men In the top 100 to eight. Getting to the top is a process and it seems as if some members of the establishment have gotten the message. The move is on to train our promising juniors on clay so that the basics - strategy, point construction and shot creation - are once again taught. The problem is that the United States has to make an attempt to reach beyond the country clubs and scout young people playing in parks or public courts. This outreach is compromised by the big PR firms now running tennis academies and their search for a particular look not a good player. Most of our past greats would not have passed the looks test.

Is Sampras right? Will it be another twenty years before the US has players deserving the designation "stars"? Time will tell.

Oh, and why don't I talk about the state of women's tennis? It speaks for itself. Other than Venus and Serena who is there?

2 comments:

Craig said...

Ouch.

And I mean that in a good way.

Craig said...

I should add that Gulbis remains an enigma to me, even as you provided a context for what may be a part of it.

I'm not sure, though, if I see Gulbis as an up-and-coming tennis god, although he might manage to become a general fan favorite simply because his talent is so immense. More Marat Safin than Roger Federer. Generally loved but not worshiped.

Yeah. Time will tell.