Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Money, Money, Money Money...Money

by Savannah

The writing team of Gamble and Huff penned the O'Jay's classic used as the headling for this post. Greg Couch has given insight into what the USTA has been up to in terms of "developing new talent" that is easily summed up by the headline. Please take your time and read the entire article. I've excerpted large parts of it below.

Picture from eltenisquenovemos.wordpress.com

... working through the minors now is an 18-year-old American left-hander, a clay court specialist who has been called "the chosen one.''

That's right, Andrea Collarini ... reached the final of the junior French Open in May on the slow, red clay. He'll play juniors at the U.S. Open next week.

So how do you explain him?

"I have to use the expression,'' a spokesperson for the Argentine tennis federation, AAT, told me, "they are stealing a player.''

No, the U.S. didn't steal Collarini. It bought him, bought his loyalty, paid for his nationalism.

Did I forget to mention that Collarini grew up in Argentina? He was born in New York and left for Argentina when he was 3. That's where he learned the game.

That's the country that was calling him the chosen one. But early this year, thanks to a fantastic financial offer from the United States Tennis Association, Collarini left Argentina, moved to the national training center in Florida and became an American.

He is apple pie now.

"As far as stealing a player, that's the farthest thing from what we're trying to do,'' said U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, who's also in charge of the USTA's player development program. "We are America, right? This is what our country is built on.''

This is the story of the building of an American tennis star. And it gets to the heart of the American Way in sports.

Do we applaud going after every avenue to make us the best, or look down on the USTA for trying to buy something it can't develop on its own?

Which is it?

The law of capitalism is winning out here. The U.S. is simply big enough to squash the Argentine federation, to gobble up its best player and make him ours.

To me, this is bullying, and I'm not sure what it will prove to have Collarini winning majors in a few years for the U.S.
"You think we go around the world trying to find a kid who could play for the U.S.?" McEnroe asked. "We don't do that. We don't go after kids.''

The truth has been a moving target in the Collarini story. I've tried to move with it, talking with Collarini at the French, and then clarifying more details at a small pro tournament in Peoria, Ill., in July. The Argentine Davis Cup captain made allegations at Wimbledon. McEnroe has responded several times from several places, though his story seems to change a little each time.

This is a messy story, as accusations fly between the Argentines and the U.S. To hear McEnroe, it was an American-born kid who knocked on the USTA's door to see if he could play for his country. "What would you say if we turned him down?'' McEnroe asked.

To hear Argentina, Collarini was a great hope that the U.S. muscled away. "We were shocked,'' said Modesto Vazquez, Argentina's Davis Cup captain and head of that country's junior development program. "It's unfair.
For me, one word keeps coming to mind:

Pathetic. That's how this makes U.S. tennis look. To go out and buy a kid so we can say we have a tennis prospect?

McEnroe has been in charge of the USTA's player development program since 2008. He's not responsible for the mess of U.S. tennis, but has been charged with cleaning it up. Maybe the biggest hole in American tennis, though McEnroe won't say it, is the amazing lack of good U.S. coaches.

So McEnroe hired Jose Higueras, a top coach from Spain, to be the USTA's head of elite player development. Higueras suggested that the USTA hire Diego Moyano, a coach in Argentina, as a clay court coaching specialist. He has since been hired.
And this is where Collarini gets into the picture.

"Diego Moyano said he had been working with a player in Argentina who has a U.S. passport and wants to play for the U.S.'' McEnroe said. "Why wouldn't we have him in our program?''

The USTA offered Collarini coaching, residence, use of a training facility, wild-card entries into tournaments, but no cash, McEnroe said.

Collarini jumped.

"Last year, when I was here at this tournament,'' Collarini said at the French Open, "they offered me to go to the USTA, and they'd pay me everything: wild cards, tournaments every week with my same coach. So it was far better. It was best for me.''

They came to you or you came to them?

"No, no, no,'' he said. "They offered me.''

Were you surprised they called?


The confusion starts here. McEnroe had said that Collarini came to the USTA, which wasn't going to pass up an American-born kid wanting to come to America. He brought up Martina Navratilova, a Czech who eventually became an American. It's what America is all about.

He said that the USTA did not go after kids, remember?

So it was back to McEnroe to ask if maybe the USTA had initiated things.

"Not true at all,'' McEnroe said. "He came to us and said he'd like to play for us.''

But Collarini said the U.S. came to him.

"All I can tell you is what Jose (Higueras) and my coaches told me. And they are beyond reproach.''

Diego Gomez, spokesperson for the federation, said they couldn't stop Collarini from leaving, and that the USTA wanted a note saying he was in good stead. What was their choice but to write it? The letter, he said, was not meant to show that the Argentines were OK with this.

They are outraged.

"Our budget is $1 million annually,'' Gomez said. "And we can never compete with a good offer of players that we produce, we protect, we invest in, and then someone has the money to buy the player.''

Gomez said his federation made a "huge economic effort'' with Collarini. He then sent me a copy of another letter the Argentine federation wrote to the USTA asking for compensation. Gomez said the federation knew it wouldn't get any money, that this was sent only in protest.

"This is why we are calling upon your good judgment for the USTA to consider, on the basis of these facts, a goodwill economic compensation that allows us, within our budget limitations, to continue the development of young players in a country with a situation that is on the opposite side regarding the facilities on which relies your federation.''

McEnroe said the USTA had no intention of sending money to Argentina.

"It's not like a World Cup soccer player,'' he said, "like there's a transfer fee.''
The Argentine federation spokesperson said it didn't have good records, but "maybe it is not that much money for the USTA or any rich federation, but to us, it is.''

Moyano would know better than anyone how the USTA hooked up with Collarini in the first place. What did you tell the USTA about him? Was it that he wanted to play in the U.S.?

"No, no,'' Moyano said. "I said I thought we could take him.''


kraa said...

And the sad thing is that it probably won't work out for the kid or USTA. Most good juniors don't go anywhere (meaning top 20 and beyond).

Anyway all this talk about developing is just that. Do you really think Federer is a result of some amazing Swiss development programm?

Savannah said...

My first thought on reading this report was about the pressure the kid is under. PMac gets points for wanting to have US juniors learn to play on clay but this reeks.

I don't know enough about Federer to know whether the Swiss system developed him or if he went elsewhere early in his career. I do know that Rafa came up outside of the Spanish system and stayed on Mallorca. So did Venus and Serena as we all know.

The kid is playing the junior tournament at the US Open. I guess we'll see if he can show us the potential Gianni Mina showed us in Paris earlier this year.

kraa said...

As far as I know Federer has always been a part of Swiss system, but the point I was making is that a lot of luck is necessary to produce a GS winning player. Just look at French (or Germans post Steffi/Boris) unable to do it despite excellent programs...

Savannah said...

Oh I totally agree kraa. It's why you can't say how a junior, although he is 18, will do at the pro level. A ton of money was spent on Donald Young and look at what happened (or hasn't).

I haven't seen much of Gianni Mina since the French and I hope that's a good thing. I just want to see this kid play.

Anonymous said...

Years ago the Brits offered the Djokovic family a home in Eastbourne, Roehampton facilities, and other riches and the family left it up to Novak to decide if he wanted to become a Brit citizen. In the end, tempting as it was for the family who had no money from Serbia, Novak said no. Sometimes people make the right decisions.

TennisAce said...

I was about to post that I do not see a thing wrong with it. At the end of the day the person who benefits is the player. In Jamaica, where I am from, we used to lose a lot of very good athletes to American colleges. They would come during our boys and girls championships and recruit the best Class 1 and Class2 athletes. These were athletes in the 16-18 age group. They were just fulfilling the potential of many high school coaches. However, being a professional athlete, before the days of Usain Bolt was not something that Jamaican children aspired to.

As a result most athletes in Jamaica wanted to be recruited to the States as it meant a chance to have a college education. Many of them have settled in the States and have become professionals outside of athletics.

The player in question is an American by birth, that means that he is entitled to play for the US. Whether he was recruited or sent out an SOS is beside the post. As far as I am concerned this is a tempest in a teapot.

Perhaps what the USTA should be doing is recruiting outside the US. American children do not have the work ethic that children in poorer countries have. While they may have the desire, they are not moved to succeed and to be the best in the world at tennis. In addition I think the USTA pushes too much money on these children. Let them perform before you start putting them up in 5 star hotels and the like.

Savannah said...

I've written a lot about the recruiting issues the USTA has. The major problem is that they are only looking within a very small group. Everyone in the States isn't driving a Benz and rockin' Louis Vuitton.

Where are the kids from Appalachia? The rural south? The Mid West? What is the effect of elementary and middle school level athletic programs being non existent in middle and lower middle class schools?

Until the USTA starts looking outside of the country clubs they'll have to resort to these tactics to get players ready to compete at the top levels and "player development" will be a joke.

That's what the controversy is TennisAce. No one is blaming the kid for jumping at the chance he's been given. I understand what you're talking about but there is a little more to it than what you're saying.

TennisAce said...

Savannah, I think we both feel the same way about how the USTA program is going. I know that in my neck of the woods most of the talented children are not those who go to the elite schools. It is usually those who are from poor communities who excel each year at the local championships.

Our local champs have caught the world so much that now the international media and high end colleges who are looking to rebuild their track and field programmes come to Jamaica each year to watch the championships. Usually they would wait until Penn Relays in order to grab our best and brightest.

I agree that the USTA should start looking outside the country clubs, but tell that to PMac and the USTA as they seem hell bent on recruiting from that area. Who needs another Venus and Serena anyway? Idiots

TennisAce said...

Remember that long discussion we had about Berdych. Here he is again doing what he does best. I just cannot have any sympathy for this fellow. None at all.

Going 2 sets to love down to Llodra. Give me a freaking break.