USTA Player Development News
Colette Lewis gives an update on the search for a new head of USTA Player Development.
The successor to USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe has not yet been named, but the subject surfaced again this week when it was announced that James Blake had been named chairman of the USTA Foundation's Board of Directors. The 35-year-old Blake, who retired from professional tennis in 2013, was considered a front runner for McEnroe's position, and although I've been told this appointment doesn't necessarily rule him out, it could indicate the USTA is still actively considering other candidates.
I received this statement yesterday from Chris Widmaier, the USTA's Managing Director of Corporate Communications regarding the timeline for filling the position.
...the USTA is still in the search phase for our new General Manager of Player Development. Quite a number of potential candidates have been identified and have been interviewed to date. Our top priority is securing the best candidate for the position and therefore have not set a strict deadline to conclude the search.
Those in the running are Tom Gullikson, Martin Blackman, and Craig Tiley, the tennis coach at Illinois for the last twelve years. Mary Jo Fernandez name has also come up. Although her husband is not with IMG any longer he is still an agent. Can you say conflict of interest? And not for the first time? What better way to find potential clients? Oh but of course Mary Jo wouldn't dare do that would she?
Antwerp - The Anti Climax
Andrea Petkovic played an amazing week of tennis in the Belgian city and while I'm not a big fan I was looking forward to the Final where she would face another woman who flew under the radar and played a great week, Carla Suárez Navarro. After suffering with injuries for three straight years I wanted to see if Petkovic could insert herself into the conversation regarding the post 2016 WTA.
Instead of that Carla, known in tennis circles as CSN, withdrew from the final with a stiff neck that made it impossible for her to serve or play without discomfort. Voila. Petkovic is the champion. And the Tournament Director, Kim Clijsters, got to play an exhibition set that she won 5-3. Clijsters made the amazing, to me anyway, statement that implied that without her in the game Belgian fans weren't interested in tennis. Ego much? Crowds were sparse during the work week but picked up dramatically on the weekend with court side seats appearing to be full. There are some who said that the the poor attendance during the week was why the WTA was abandoning Europe for Asia. I don't know what those people were inhaling, injecting or smoking but NO that is not a good analogy. Unless things have changed radically those big beautiful tennis stadiums in China remain mostly empty for the length of a tournament. I heard - the WTA and CTA don't release figures - that attendance at Shenzen was abysmal. I can't verify that since it's depressing to watch tennis in an empty stadium with "fans" who know nothing about the sport yakking it up during matches and cheering in the wrong places. Most of the top women players with a few exceptions and one big exception are from Eastern Europe but there is no way for fans to see them play. The corporate line is that those countries are too poor to support tennis. Newsflash. Outside of a comparatively small elite China is a poor country as well.
I saw one tennis journalist who said the tournament's return was cursed. That's a bit extreme no? In this day and age players pay much more attention to their health and well being and you get situations like this. CSN is not known for phantom injuries popping up at the last minute so I think she deserves to be cut some slack here. The title doesn"t come with an asterisk next to Petkovic's name.
The LTA Makes Good On It's Threats
I've been talking about the situation in Britain with the Lawn Tennis Association and tennis players for a few years now. Every new head of the LTA threatens to cut the stipends it pays it's players until or unless they show more than an effort on the court. It seems that the organization is finally putting its money where its mouth is and the fall out has begun.
Michael Downey, formerly of Tennis Canada, took over a little over a year ago in January 2014. With no deep ties to anyone in England he seems to be moving the LTA out of the 1950's and into the 21st century reality of tennis. How? A ranking inside of 250(!) will no longer assure a British player of a WC into Wimbledon. Why did it anyway? This BBC Sports article says the following (emphasis mine):
... an LTA spokesperson says it now plans to nominate those who "have the best chance of performing well".
Of the eight players given wildcards in the 2014 singles main draw, only Naomi Broady won her first-round match.
LTA chief executive Michael Downey and director of player development Bob Brett, both of whom joined the governing body in the past two years, were known not to be fans of the previous criteria.
"This revised approach will enable the LTA to give consideration to attributes in addition to rankings," an LTA spokesperson added.
"These additional attributes will include attitude, professionalism, game development and recent form."
One can only hope that the USTA will be able to implement the same criteria for its players going forward.
Meanwhile one British player has threatened to throw in the towel saying without his stipend he can't afford to keep playing for England. Daniel Cox, ranked 245 in the world, says he can't take the pressure. His local area newspaper reported the following:
Cox says every tournament he travels to presents a huge financial gamble because he has to win sufficient prize money to at least cover his costs.
Last year Cox’s great gamble paid off when he qualified for the sporting nirvana – Wimbledon – where he faced former world number 25 Jeremy Chardy in the first round.
Although he eventually lost that match, Cox certainly announced his arrival at the sport’s top table by thrilling the British spectators and taking a set from the Frenchman.
However, the pressure on Cox merely to qualify for the All England Championships was almost too much to bear and he admits he paid a heavy price.
The Lincoln professional says his nerves are constantly stretched because of the pressure on him to win sufficient prize money just to cover his flight and hotel costs.
“All the stress I had before Wimbledon ended with a massive high because I got in,” said Cox.
“But when I came down after the high, that’s when it all hit me. I was in such a bad state of mind I didn’t want to get up in the morning and was unable to make even the smallest decision.
The article goes on. Again all emphasis is mine.
The opportunities for British players to earn enough money to live on have been reduced following changes in the professional game.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) reduced its Tournament Bonus Scheme and Cox predicts it could lead to more of the UK’s best players being forced to quit.
“The LTA have made so many cuts,” added Cox. “It is very frustrating for us as professionals. We are in the top 10 in the country and we are not told why the bonus scheme was cut.
“I believe the number of professional players in this country will be slashed. I have friends who have quit already because they can’t afford it anymore.
“Between now and this year’s Wimbledon tournament is probably going to be the most important time of my career.
“I have to make it pay, or I have to find a company willing to sponsor me.
“Most players have a coach with them and many also have a physio. I can’t afford to do any of that.
“The top 100 or 200 players in the world have their coach with them on court, while I am there alone.
“It means I have twice as much to think about compared to the other guy, because their coach will organise rackets, organise practice sessions, organise his flights.
“All of that stuff takes the pressure off you as a player so you can concentrate on actually winning.
No offense Mr. Cox but right now there is only one huge player from the British Isles and he's not you. If being top ten in your country is a goal in itself so be it. Does it guarantee you a place in a major where your Federation is footing most of your bill? Should it? Don't forget these are outsiders making decisions the LTA couldn't bring itself to make. The threat that the number of pro players in England will fall is hollow since none of the current crop of male players is anywhere near the top 100. Remember Dustin Brown traveling from tournament to tournament in his van? He's played himself into a ranking where he doesn't need a Wild Card anymore and he plays Main Tour and Challenger tour events.
If they dared make the same decision the LTA has made in the US I'm sure the whining would be just as loud. Let's see if the new heads of the LTA stick to their guns.
The Winter/Summer South American Golden Swing
The temperature is somewhere below freezing at the moment in New York City but the Golden Swing is underway in South America where summer is holding sway.
The first tournament I watched some of was in Quito, Ecuador. To say that the lights going out in the middle of a semifinal didn't do much to elevate the continent's reputation in terms of its infrastructure but when the players could compete the level was good. This is the tournament that replaced Viña del Mar. Attendance looked to be okay.
The tournament in Sao Paulo Brazil just ended with a Qualifier Luca Vanni pushing veteran Pablo Cuevas to his limits. Next week will see Rio de Janeiro host mens and women's tournaments. The swing ends in Acapulco which has sadly become a hard court event. I guess all the big name US players will be there. I'll watch with nostalgia coloring my vision of the tournament. I really enjoy the few weeks respite from the hard courts. Changing Acapulco's surface just forces the change in tactics and style of tennis on someone like me faster.
I'm not quite sure why do many WTA fans want this part of the tour done away with. What would take the place of these tournaments? More play in China? That makes no sense when the big US spring hard court tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami will follow. Oh, did I mention those two events are point heavy? Maybe the thinking is more players will go to Acapulco? Surely they're not going to go to Kuala Lumpur? Monterrey? I really don't know what the thinking is behind the push to do away with those events.
I picked him as my Player of the Year for 2014. He played as if he was ready to compete against the Top Four and I expected him to start 2015 with a bang. Instead he's been struggling against players he should be able to beat in his sleep if he were playing with the form he had at the end of 2014. As that great tennis sage Marion Bartoli said "It's easier to be the hunter than the hunted". There's still a lot of 2015 to go though.