Thursday, September 4, 2014

Patrick McEnroe Out At USTA

by Savannah

 photo Patrick-Mcenroe-006MatthewStockmanGettyImages_zps6ef8defa.jpg
Photo via Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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.


Karen said...

Some people have an aversion to being away from home, and in this, I think what the USTA should look at doing is perhaps having low level challenger tournaments in and around the US where US players could compete against each other, and overseas talent as well. I don't know how many Futures there are in the US, but perhaps they could put more of those in place so that American players could benefit.

The US does not have to send its players to Europe to play on red clay. I live in Cayman and we have perfectly good clay courts here, built and maintained here in Cayman and they are beautiful etc. The USTA have coaches from all parts of the world. What is lacking in US tennis is a work ethic. You can't want success if you don't work for it. When you listen to the top guys, one of the first things they talk about is how hard they train. All of them take breaks when they work on fitness, agility and their overall games. I can't recall seeing one US male (the women do it) post pictures of themselves doing some kind of training. This is the reason why they are always injured or running out of gas early in tournaments. Not for nothing is Fed 33 years old and last year was his first year with a significant injury.

Tennis is a very tough sport and players need to work on not only the physical, but the mental as well. They need to learn how to remain focused in a match, how to keep a lead (looking at you McHale) and how not to let what their opponent is doing on the other side of the net affect them.

If you notice when Serena plays, she has no time to look at what her opponent is doing on the other side of the net. Many players talk about how Serena owns the court. That is one of the hardest things to do in tennis and Serena does it so well because of how she carries herself onto the court. These US men go out on court and they are smiling. You are going into competition, why do you think it is a game and why are you smiling and laughing and joking around.

Savannah said...

"What is lacking in US tennis is a work ethic."

This is it in a nutshell. I remember Querrey saying it didn't matter if he won because he could still go home and drive his mother's Porsche. US players don't think they have to work for anything because many of them, to use a baseball analogy, were born on third base and think they've got it bad.

Sadly, the Cayman Islands are "foreign" to these players and the idea of going there to work on their games wouldn't appeal to them. It's a mindset that won't be easily overcome. They have no idea that the Caribbean is made up of different countries with different cultures. They've been conditioned to think of themselves as stars and nothing will change their minds.

Karen said...

Its an incredibly stupid way of thinking. When you read articles about how foreign players embrace life on tour, how they find restaurants, and homes and places of amusement far away from home that they return to every year on Tour stops, without complaining it makes you wonder about the US men especially. The women are not so bad. there is nothing wrong with being a little homesick, but the constant craving for American food is horrible. I would give my left foot to be able to eat in France or Italy or Spain.

I saw someone posting a quote that is attributed to Venus which mentions that the USTA needs to go back to basics. That is really what needs to happen and soon.