Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Where Have All The Good USA Tennis Players Gone?

Can you name the top-ranked men's tennis player in the world that is from the United States?

I could not until today when I attended the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Suffice it to say that the United States is not producing tennis players like it did when I was younger and we had players like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Conners and John McEnroe.

In fact, there has not been an American male ranked #1 in the world since Andy Roddick in 2003.

Consider the number of weeks that Americans were #1 in the ATP rankings over the last forty years and you can see how far the USA has fallen.

Pete Sampras- 286 weeks

Jimmy Conners- 268 weeks

John McEnroe- 170 weeks

Andre Agassi- 101 weeks

Jim Courier-  58 weeks

Where does the best USA male tennis player rank today?  #12.

He is also the only USA male ranked in the top 25.

What has happened to the tennis talent in America?  Did it all of a sudden disappear?

That is undoubtedly not the case.

There is just as much raw talent and talent as there has ever been.

Quite simply, there clearly are not as many kids playing tennis.

And those that are playing are not putting the hours of practice in that kids did in the past.

The rest of the world has also caught up. When I was growing up tennis was dominated by the Americans and the Australians. It is much more of a worldwide game now.

In fact, the top 20 male tennis players in the world come from 14 different countries.

American Serena Williams remains the top ranked female player. However, there is only one other American woman in the Top 20 (Madison Keys #19).

Belinda Bencic (Switzerland) from my courtside seat today
#12 ranked female player in the world

Here is a chart showing the percentage of adolescents who play various sports in the USA.

Source: http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/9469252/hidden-demographics-youth-sports-espn-magazine

Football, basketball and baseball have always been the top 3 in male sports but soccer seems to have taken a big chunk out of potential tennis players compared to what we might have seen in the past.

What is the answer to get Americans back on top in tennis?

More kids playing tennis.

And a few of those kids willing to put the thousands of hours of practice in order to be the best.

Or as Todd Martin an American tennis pro and instructor who was at one time ranked #4 in the world told Forbes magazine a couple of years ago about the decline of American tennis.

It’s a skills-intensive game that rewards individuals willing to hit thousands of balls a day. Few kids out there are willing to do that for the decade or so it takes to become elite.

Or as Chris Evert told The Wall Street Journal recently in a nice feature on her upbringing looking back from her 60th year.

The reason I did so well so quickly is that I practiced for hours each day—at night under the lights after school and in the mornings and evenings on weekends. In Florida you could play outdoors year-round, which gave me an edge over those who played only five months of the year.

Talent is vastly overrated. In any endeavor.

If you see a change in the perceived talent level like we are seeing in tennis today in the United States there is an explanation. It can almost always be traced to several missing ingredients.

Passion. Practice. Perspiration. Perseverance.

Give me those four and you will find success almost anywhere you go.

Toil trumps talent. Hard work beats heredity.

Do you want to know the name of the top ranked USA male tennis player?

John Isner.

Credit: Naparazzi via Wikipedia Commons

By the way, Isner is 6'10'' tall.

He chose tennis over basketball?

Smart decision.

It would have probably been even harder to be the 12th best basketball player in the world.

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