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Those of us of a certain age remember the song "The Weight" by a group called "The Band". Aretha Franklin recorded a popular version.
This song popped into my head when the story broke during the Kei Nishikori/Stan Wawrinka match that Patrick McEnroe was out as head of the USTA's Player development program.
Mary Pilon and Andrew W. Leren of the New York Times report the following:
No American man reached the fourth round of the Open this year — the second straight year that had happened, and the second time in the tournament’s 134-year history.
“I always saw this job as full time,” McEnroe said in a news conference Wednesday. “I’m pretty committed to doing what’s right for the U.S.T.A. and for player development in general. Obviously I did some other things, still do some other things as well. That’s obvious. I think when I initially took the job, that was seen as a positive. I know there have been critics about that over the years. It certainly comes with the territory.”
David A. Haggerty, the chairman and president of the U.S.T.A., said McEnroe had done a “fantastic job.” The U.S.T.A.’s executive director, Gordon A. Smith, echoed the sentiment, saying that “Patrick has created a great staff.” Smith added, “It’s going to be hard to replace Patrick.”
McEnroe has come under fire for his role in player development as elite players have struggled in major competitions. In interviews with several athletes, parents and coaches, McEnroe was described as not spending significant time at the Boca Raton complex. McEnroe has taken some of the blame from critics for the lack of American stars beyond Serena Williams, the world’s top-ranked female player.
As head of player development, McEnroe was paid about $875,000 in 2012, according to the U.S.T.A.’s financial forms, and more than $1 million in each of the three previous years.
Critics of his role in player development have pointed to his numerous television appearances and have questioned how he could focus on being an analyst while also earning a seven-figure paycheck from the U.S.T.A
It is mentioned in the article that Serena Williams is the only United States star and that she is not a product of the USTA player development system.
To anyone who watched any of the first week of this years US Open where US players found it difficult to manuever around a court let alone win matches the problems in US tennis were glaringly apparent.
I should state here that I have never been a fan of PMac. His openly rooting for players close to him and his brother, his fanboying over one particular foreign born player, and his fat shaming of Taylor Townsend haven't done much to endear this observer to him. I don't think it's fair to blame him for all the problems in US tennis. He took over in 2008. Most of the known US players were already in the pipeline by then. Still as Shakespeare wrote "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" and since he was sitting on the throne everything wrong is his fault.
I could write hundreds of words about individual players but the main problem the US players have is that they usually only play each other. Why they feel that going to Europe is a fate worse than death is beyond me. Why the US tennis establishment lets them get away with it is ridiculous.
Let's be serious. Why did Ryan Harrison get a Wild Card into the Main Draw? And who thought Madison Brengle deserved one? Sloane Stephens and her "I'm a stah" attitude was shown the door quickly. John "I have to play on Center Court or I suffer" Isner (yeah PMac's favorite said the same thing but I'm not talking about him here). Let's not even get into Sam Querrey.
It's often been said you have to win to know how to win. US players, not just the ones named above need to get over their jingoistic, zenophobic attitudes and go play tennis! That means playing 250's and International level tournaments in places where McDonald's isn't part of the local menu. It means learning how to construct points, to play in places where the amenities and cameras are few. It means playing against players who haven't been raised to think their arrival on the planet was akin to the second coming. It means learning to think the game of tennis so that when your tennis association is looking at who to give Wild Cards to it's not a popularity contest but a contest based on merit. Stop whining as one US female did, that the Europeans "disrespect" US players. You have to give respect to get it.
I do know that there is a lot of resistance to pushing up and coming players to learn to play on clay courts, not that green shit but the red dirt, something that PMac was for. I've written here that the USTA needed to expand beyond the country club and look at players with the will and desire to win. Most of the players still come from privileged backgrounds despite some notable exceptions.
The other thing that needs to be said is that PMac would probably still have his job if there was a US male player storming up the rankings. The disdain of the US tennis establishment for women's tennis is glaring and something they don't even try to hide. US women appear to be in better shape than the men but that argument proves to be bogus when we saw that they were all gone when the second week rolled around, again with one notable exception.
It's going to be interesting to see who replaces McEnroe. Chris Evert gave a spirited defense of his tenure on ESPN last evening and I'm sure there are others who feel the way she does.
I have absolutely no say on the matter but I would hope that someone steps in who will take the blinders off, who will go against the "star system" of US tennis and encourage players to go overseas and play in those lower ranked tournaments, who will continue to push for players learning to play on red clay, who will encourage players develop an overall game before become serve bots or players with all the shots and no game. I'd hope that fitness becomes a major part of player development. And that Wild Cards are given on merit not just popularity or what woulda, coulda shoulda been for some players.
There is no where for US tennis to go but up.