The Sad State of American Tennis

Who is this?
Who is this?
Who is the third best tennis player in America? The answer is: Bradley Klahn. Who? That was what I wanted to know.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about him:
Bradley Klahn (born August 20, 1990) is an American tennis player from Poway, California. Klahn played collegiate tennis at Stanford University where he won the 2010 NCAA Singles Championships as a sophomore. His next year as a junior, he was a finalist in the NCAA Doubles Championship. He played at the 2010 US Open, taking a set from 20th seed Sam Querrey before being defeated in four sets. Klahn received a wild card into the 2011 SAP Open. He is coached by Lee Merry.

What this surprise says is not that you and I don’t know our tennis, nor that 23 year old Bradley had a meteoric rise; but it speaks to the poor state of America’s mens tennis. Look at the four names our country has in the Top 100 (with a population of 317 million people).
american rankings
Other countries:

• France, with a population of 65 million, has 12 in the Top 100.

• Spain, with a population of 46 million, has 14 (!) in the Top 100.

• Switzerland, with a population of 8 million, has two in the Top 10 (!)

The American women have many more good, young prospects; but on the men’s side, it is pitiful.

And, why is that?

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5 thoughts on “The Sad State of American Tennis

  1. We don’t have an Sampras or Agassi to aspire to

    Bill – yup, lack of role models is a key factor. george

  2. George, Several tennis channel commentators suggested American tennis youth development competes with more sports than the Europeans. Throw in the personal cost of tennis player development and lack of minorities in tennis, it only would make sense that USA tennis struggles.

    Gary – Yes, that is the obvious first response; but i also think other countries’ players are “hungrier” to succeed. tks, george

  3. george. imagine if all the athletes who play basketball now would have only played tennis. i would bet we’d have a few more in the top ten.

    Joe – yes, how good would LeBron be at the net!! George

  4. As a former Div I coach and player there has been a big change in opportunity in collegiate men’s tennis. It used to be if you were in the top ten of a good section you could expect a full scholarship. Now maybe top twenty in the Nation. We are the training ground for foreign tennis players. So if you are a parent or kid looking for a sport to get a scholarship for your son in tennis ,good luck. Wonder why more women players, they have 8 full scholarships per team and men have 4&1/2.
    Second big reason is cost. The USTA has to start spending more on subsidizing juniors to play tournaments and less on coaches. As long as the current system stands I am not confident much will improve.

    Larry – we had that same conversation with the pros at Newk’s camp last year! Thanks, george

  5. I read with great interest Larry Turville’s comment because he knows so much about the game. I offer the following observations/ comments from admittedly the peanut box:

    I have seen the statement that the USTA spends too much on coaches and not enough on logistical support for juniors before. I think there is considerable validity to it, but instinctively feel it cannot be the complete answer because, in the past, there have been top US men who have come up through the ranks after starting with very humble beginnings (e.g., Gonzales, Connors, Agassi – all in different eras). Back in the days when the athletes that I have identified were coming up, there were different support groups for the athletes in different eras, but it basically boiled down to the American free enterprise system doing its best (family and private funding, I gather, for Gonzales and Connors; the Bolletieri academy for Agassi). But the common theme seemed to be that there was a powerful hunger for success, which not only drove the athletes individually to improvement on the court but also created scenarios and opportunities for private sector financial funding and training of the athletes that were distinctly different from the modern “trend” of a unified, national junior tennis advancement program such as now exists in the USTA and has been borrowed as a model from similar programs nations, like Spain, France, etc.

    I am also curious about Larry’s main point that scholarship opportunities have dwindled for men in collegiate tennis. Frankly, I was not aware of that, but I was aware that there has been a trend for many universities to limit or eliminate secondary sports like tennis as a means of complying with the Title IX restrictions that require equal spending for women and men on sports programs in proportion to their demographics in the school. I assume that the Title IX restrictions have something to do with the decreased availability of scholarships in Division I mens tennis. Owing mainly to the fact that such a disproportionate amount of spending is typically made on big market sports like football (and to a lesser degree basketball), schools have been quietly reducing their financial commitment to all sorts of secondary sports, including tennis, over the last few decades. For example, I know this happened at Miami University in Ohio about 10-15 years ago, leaving a number of tennis players in the lurch. And men’s tennis was eliminated entirely as a team sport at my alma mater, Rutgers, a Division I school, a few years back (although women’s tennis is still played at the school), much to the chagrin of folks like me. However, no nationally prominent school is going to do away with its football program because these programs have become such big money makers for the schools in the nationally prominent (and incredibly lucrative) conferences where such schools aspire to play and because the alumni — who provide so much of each school’s endowment — would simply not tolerate it. At the same time, I think a valid point could be made that a sport like football is really not a true “sport” at these schools any longer, at least in the Division I programs, in the same sense of other classically collegiate sports like tennis, lacrosse, crew, swimming, golf, and even baseball. Instead, football is now “big business” at most of these schools, where it has taken on a life of its own.

    So, all of this leads to two follow up questions/ comments:

    1). Is the present USTA model, borrowed from national tennis programs that have shown great success in different countries like Spain and France, really the proper and correct program to restore the US to international tennis prominence after all? Or does it tend to stifle innovation and, indeed, the hunger for success and individuality that seems to have been the hidden secret pushing the truly great American champions of the past? If there is validity to this, then could one significant improvement be made — counterintuitively I admit — by having the USTA actually back away from its present centralized coaching/ funding system for the advancement of junior tennis, and by restoring tennis coaching more to the decentralized grass roots level that it used to be, while at the same time having the USTA function more like a “banker” — that is, more freely make financial backing available to the more autonomous grass roots coaches/ programs that this modified system would then encourage, but not trying to micromanage the differing approaches toward coaching that would ensue at the local levels?

    2). At the collegiate level, is the Title IX system broken, not in the sense that anyone would suggest funding for female and male athletes should not continue to be provided at fair levels, but because big sports programs like football, which females never play and which are truly the 800 pound gorillas in the room, literally “suck” so many available dollars out of the male sports budgets that sports like tennis can no longer be funded at a level allowing for our colleges to continue as the incubators for professional advancement that they once were? And if there is some validity to this point, can the Title IX system be fixed or improved by simply treating football as the equivalent of a fundraising/ business venture for the schools that have such programs, as much as it is a sport, and therefore granting universities a partial exemption from having to count the football dollars against the dollars spent on other sports for purposes of tallying up their Title IX commitments? If this change were made, arguably this would allow schools to recommit to funding secondary sports programs like mens tennis at a higher level than Title IX presently allows.

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