Friday, August 30, 2013

2013 US Open Week 1 Day 3

by Savannah

In the wake of Victoria Duval's upset of Samantha Stosur Tuesday and the suddenly competent play of Donald Young Tom Perrotta of the Wall Street Journal reports on the phasing out of the USTA Player Development Center in Boca Raton. The Center was based at Chris Evert's Academy. Here's the lede.

After years of watching American tennis sink into the shadows, the U.S. Tennis Association decided in 2008 to make a bold move: It would open its first-ever full-time training academy for top juniors. Under the program, the country's best prospects would be invited to Boca Raton, Fla., to live and train, all expenses paid, with the goal of beating back the onslaught of talent from Europe.

But as the U.S. Open gets under way this week, the future of U.S. tennis is still precarious, with few serious male contenders and only a handful of promising young women in the field. And after six years of rapid turnover among players at the USTA academy and many complaints—including one lawsuit—from players and parents who say the program is too harsh, the USTA has decided to change strategy.

Next year, just three players will live in the academy's dormitory, down from a high of 18 in 2009.


There is no consensus on the best way to mold young tennis champions: The process is handled differently all over the world. But in interviews, more than a dozen parents, players and coaches who were associated with the USTA's elite program characterized the camp as a stressful place where players were subject to unreasonable expectations and lived in fear of losing scholarships if their results slipped.

"They are almost training these kids like they are running out of time," said Zaza Corinteli, whose son, Luca, left the program last year. "You have a lemon in front of you, you squeeze all the juices out, then you put it in the garbage can. It just feels like there is very little regard."

It's sad to see a program that started with such high hopes and seemingly unlimited potential turn out to have been so wrong for tennis in the United States.

Perrotta is the reporter who broke the story of Taylor Townsend's problems with the USTA last year. He gives an example in his article about the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Academy.

In June 2012, Julia O'Loughlin a former trainee at the academy, filed a lawsuit against the USTA in Palm Beach County, Fla. In a copy of the complaint reviewed by the Journal, O'Loughlin, who was 14 when the alleged problems occurred, alleges that her coaches knew she had a prior eating disorder, but she was put on a restrictive diet anyhow, subjected to daily weigh-ins and told she needed to lose 20 pounds. In November 2011, O'Loughlin alleged in her suit, she was trained "to the point of exhaustion," running 17 miles in two days in addition to her normal routine before being taken to the emergency room with severe dehydration. She was later admitted to a residential treatment center for bulimia for 30 days.

O'Loughlin's lawsuit was dismissed on grounds of improper jurisdiction, because it was filed in Florida rather than in New York, where the USTA is based. That ruling is currently being appealed.

Collette Lewis who writes the Zoo Tennis and has covered Junior and Collegiate tennis for the past eight years and who is responsible for getting me pointed to this article says the following:

I've never supported the USTA's venture into the academy business, feeling the money devoted to the select few in this circumstance could be much more effective if spread out over a substantially larger number of players. I do think the USTA needs a place with temporary housing to optimize the time spent there by those in town for weekly camps, but running a full time academy always felt unnecessary to me. Some players have thrived under in USTA's academy setting, but a significant number have not, and I believe the move away from this centralization experiment is a good one. And while they're making changes, I'd love for the USTA to consider reviving the Junior Davis Cup (and Junior Fed Cup).

That sounds like a good idea Ms Lewis.

And The Rains Came

To my knowledge there is no threat of a hurricane hitting the New York City region in the next few days but Mother Nature is sending in the rain. I'd like to think that the USTA heeded the wishes of the fans about new roofs for Ashe and Armstrong but I think it has more to do with shame. They were the laughing stock of the tennis world and I guess they got sick of it. Just think. If they'd started building the roof at the same time the folks at Wimbledon did the rainy forecast from Sunday to Tuesday wouldn't be an issue. I'm sure some suit at CBS is raking another suit from the USTA over the coals for not remedying the situation sooner. That makes me smile.

At any rate the USTA was not put in the position of having to refund or make good on tickets for yesterday's play since there was tennis available for the night session ticket holders and some matches from the day session played to their conclusion.

What was outstanding yesterday? I'm sorry to admit that I wasn't that interested again.

Day 4

The match that stood out for me was between Bernard Tomic and Daniel Evans. If you've never heard of Evans don't feel bad. No one outside of Britain had heard of him until he knocked Nishikori Kei out of the US Open in the first round. Then of course the ticker tape parade began. All of the British journalists on my Twitter timeline were talking as if he'd discovered how to cure world hunger. They were so happy to see that young Evans is doing well now that he's committed to training and discipline, the things that go with doing well in tennis. It's amusing isn't it that it's news when a player from the US or Britain starts doing what all those people from countries with funny names or from non Northern Europe do to keep themselves at the top of the sport. If they're not doing the drills, the exercises, the diets then what the hell are they doing? Why are the USTA and LTA spending untold sums of money to "develop" these players, none of whom have come close to winning a major in decades.

Anyway back to the match. Tomic came out like a house on fire taking the first set 6-1. After that he seemed to lose interest. Every now and then he'd hit a nice shot or bestir himself to actually chase down a ball or put together a nice sequence of shots. But most of the time he looked bored shitless.

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Evans, with large tattoos on his arms, woke from his slumber and played as well as he needed to defeat Tomic. He didn't light up the court (unless you're British) and he doesn't seem to have anything special. I don't know what was going on with Nishikori but I could've beat Tomic today. Well almost. You know what I mean.

Is Tomic pining for his Dad's presence on court? Don't know. I do know that the player I saw today has no chance of being top ten if he thinks the hustle, the sweat, and the pain that goes with playing top tier tennis is beneath him. It's hard to think you have to do more than show up when you've been told you're the shit ever since you were old enough to hold a racquet to make a shot.

For example when asked about Tomic's bad boy reputation the Australian commentator gave Tomic a pass. He's young. He likes the toys that making money allows him to have. I mean he's young. Seriously. I'm sure Tennis Australia was not happy with his performance today. Meanwhile the LTA is probably having emergency meetings to discuss how getting tough with a player pays dividends. How much do you want to bet that they threatened to take Evans stipend? photo 840e5687-4a6c-4b13-8467-6652aa1aafa0_zps3572e8c9.jpg

Anyone who reads this space regularly knows that I rarely listen to or watch ESPN coverage. I'm that person who likes to see a match from beginning to end in one sitting. I don't mind being updated on other scores but I don't like being forced to watch someone I could care less about or listen to "neutral" commentators fanboying. It's a quirk I have.

So all day I watched tennis on the USTA App. It's a wonderful thing and gives you live scores as well as live video. A lot of the commentary comes from ITV it seems. Whoever they are (Virgina Wade is one) they're not talking about where someone ate or fawning over a WAG. These comms don't talk during points and keep their focus on the match. Weird right?

I'm getting there. Patience is a virtue.

Anyway after watching the men's match on Ashe I put on ESPNw. the usually sane Darren Cahill was working with the usually sane Chris Fowler. Brad Gilbert was thrown out of the sandbox and was working the sidelines.

Within five minutes of my tuning in everything went to hell. Well at least these three men thought it had. You see the crowd, drunk as they usually are this time of night (the Grey Goose Bar gets tons of action and they're placed strategically around the grounds and of course the beer) and were cheering for Gaël Monfils. As we all know Monfils is a showman and when he knows he can't win a match he begins to do his act. The crowd was eating it up and chanting his name. Fun right? Except that he was playing the United States #1 player John Isner.

I don't know if you've ever watched Isner play. If you look up "servebot" in the dictionary his picture is on top of the pile of American players. Servebot is my new favorite word. I didn't make it up someone else did. It's a quick way to summarize the approach to tennis taken by the USTA, especially it's male players though and as I said Isner is their leader. I'm sure he's a nice man, a good person and treats his mother well. But when it comes to playing tennis you'd get moe excitement from a bump on a log than watching one, two serve. Take a step raise arm serve. Step back to the other side and repeat. Not what a drunken crowd needs to stay engaged.

Well Cahill and his cohorts were upset! Hysterical I tell you about an American crowd cheering for a Frenchman. I mean what loyal patriotic red white and blue American could ever be a fan of someone from another country (Unless he's at the right hand of the Deity of course)?

Their reaction was amazing. They praised some woman who was wearing a Georgia Bull Dogs baseball cap who was chastising the fans in her vicinity for cheering for a foreigner. Brad Gilbert starting raging about how the match should never have been on Armstrong but held in the neatly sanitized confines of Ashe. The fans there would know they were supposed to be urging their fellow American on no matter their state of inebriation. The yahoo's on Armstrong, well, "we" don't accept them as true tennis fans.

The other night when Armstrong rang with the voices of people cheering Victoria Duval there was a kid, a young kid, two rows behind me who, whenever there was a lull (you know, for breathing and other necessities of life) he would shout out his support of Samantha Stosur. No one berated him. No one yelled at him to shut up. He had his favorite and he stuck with her no matter what the crowd was doing. I was surprised to see that he was ten years old at the most.

I'm saying that to say that tennis is an international sport. The USTA, the LTA, Tennis Australia and the FFT all give lip service to that reality but deep down they think that this is still the 1970's when the US, Britain and Australia dominated tennis. If you think I'm exaggerating I read an interview John McEnroe did just before the start of the US Open where he refused to admit that the technology that has made the modern game of tennis possible can't be thrown aside. He really thinks that wooden racquets and the courts that made them effective are coming back. And to think he runs a tennis academy!!

You can find the interview HERE

I have a question for you fans. Does anyone remember how the US Open crowds would cheer Justine Henin when she was playing Serena Williams? No matter who played against Venus Williams the crowd was for her. It was the same when Kim clijsters played against either of the sisters. Do you remember any commentator clutching his or her pearls about it?

Me neither.


me said...

I agree with you Savannah! None of them EVER sounded outraged when the crowds were rooting for one the Belgians or even Sharapova over the Williams sisters. And to top it off, Isner tweeted the following on his Twitter account after the match: I miss the south #godscountry. Excuse me?! That twitter msg. Isner wrote explains so so much!

And again--thanks for your stupendous writing as always. :)

Matt said...

You absolutely hit the nail on the head in that last paragraph Savannah. *BAM*. Love your work. I really hope you write a book one day. Your critique and analyses on tennis and the establishment is absolutely unique & objective and informs, entertains, and makes me laugh immensely. Further, you somehow find out snippets of inside info like none other. The Sherlock Holmes of tennis? ;) And I call myself a tennis fanboy, yet you manage to break news quicker than the tennis "journo" establishment (if you can call them that).

Please, never stop writing! Your blog gives me reason to maintain an interest in the sport I'm such a passionate fan of.
-Matt x

Randy Burgess said...

I'm glad you're posting so much about these matches, otherwise I'd have nowhere to go with my enthusiasm the day after.

In this case, I confess to being an Evans fan, even if momentarily. I can only devote so much time out of my day to watching streaming, and when I looked over the order of play yesterday A.M. it was Evans-Tomic that stood out for me. I had seen Evans beat Nishikori and wanted to see if Evans could follow up; and I was curious to see what Tomic would do, stranded as he is without his dad.

The noise of the British press aside, I've enjoyed watching Evans. He is not big (his ATP page says 5'9", but I think that's badly outdated & by now he must be closer to 5'10 or even 6') - but he hits a decent serve & what I think are some decent groundstrokes including a workmanlike slice and sometimes a nice down-the-line single-hander. And he did not seem to suffer from nerves when it came time to close out his 2 higher-ranked opponents.

As for Nishikori, I can tell you what was going on with him: He had misplaced his serve from the get-go & couldn't find it anywhere he looked. Once he discovered the serve was missing, he decided to misplace his forehand too just to keep the serve company. A bad day, yes, but his game has some real weaknesses. With no real weapons & little if any variety in his toolkit, if plan A isn't working there is no plan B.

As for Tomic, I don't think he is lazy, merely confused. As you suggest, the source of the confusion (aside from being blinded by fame & money thrown in his eyes) appears to be his dad. I don't think Tomic tanks matches deliberately, and by now I think he has begun to put more skin in the game & understands at least conceptually the value of grit & sweat & toil. Yet he seems like a sleepwalker at times. A neglectful or emotionally abusive parent can wreak havoc with a child's life direction & decision-making & even basic perception of the world. So I feel a little for Tomic - not a lot, necessarily, but a little. So privileged and yet so lonely.

Savannah said...

Thank you all for the positive feedback! I started this blog so that fans like us would have place to come and talk about the sport we love.

Matt, welcome.

Randy It's interesting about Evans. I hope he understands that he's going to be in the spotlight now and that it's life changing, as Sara Errani had found out.

I was a little hesitant to talk about the effects of abuse and Tomic but I'm glad you did Randy. I'm sure it's a major reason why things go like they have for him of late.

As for Isner's provincialism - I'll call it that and leave it at that - it's not a real surprise. Oudin has said the same thing. She especially hates New York. Seems Isner is the same way.

rcm said...

Great post, as usual. When I check TennisReview I always hope to see your blog on the list. Yours is a unique voice and always worth a read. I have to agree with Matt's comments here.