And, poof, just like that, American tennis is gone. No, not just from the Australian Open, where the last American man standing, John Isner, lost before the first weekend of the year’s first major. US tennis is gone from the world map, too.
The top players have faded, and the bottom ones aren’t good enough. This is the moment US tennis has been nervous about for years:
Not one American man is good enough even to contend for a major championship. Forget Wimbledon. Forget the US Open. And only one woman, Serena Williams, is good enough. She will hide the problems in women’s tennis in the United States for a little while longer.
But the men? They are a vacuum.
It has been coming for years. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors passed the baton to Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, who passed it to Andy Roddick, who managed to win just one major. But still, he was a top player. And now? Roddick has crossed the finish line and put the baton on the ground somewhere. No one will take it. You want it? It’s yours.
Start with an image: Teenager Andrea Collarini, the Argentine-turned-American claycourt specialist, walks onto a clay court in the U.S. with his coach, Diego Moyano. The United States Tennis Association hired Moyano away from Argentina, too, to work with Collarini and teach Americans about clay court tennis.
So he and Collarini walk onto the court together for maybe the first time in the U.S., and their arms are out as if they are tightrope walkers. They are walking carefully, afraid they’ll fall.
OK? I’ll get back to that. Now this:
One thing is bugging me. And I think it’s another example of why the USTA isn’t having success developing top players. We’re in the red clay season on tour, which is the red-faced season for American tennis. We can’t play on the stuff, but it’s now generally accepted as the ideal learning ground.
Well, the news Monday was that for the first time in the 38 years since they’ve had computer rankings, no American player, man or woman, is in the top 10. It might be the first time ever, even before computers.
The USTA, led by player development chief Patrick McEnroe, is trying everything from putting all top juniors together at a central training facility to letting them stay near home in regional ones. Also, the USTA has put in clay courts, protected struggling low-level pro events that are on clay, and moved a top junior tourney to clay.
It is either a calculated, precise effort to develop American tennis, or they’re just throwing everything at the wall and hoping something will stick.
To me, the USTA effort is a mess. 1) It can’t even get along with the guy who was considered for years to be its top prodigy, Donald Young, who recently wrote on Twitter: “Fu—USTA!!’’ 2) It was so desperate that it bought another top prospect, Collarini, who was born in the U.S., but grew up in Argentina and learned all his tennis there. 3) The top of the game lacks Americans. 4) The up-and-comers are hitting a ceiling. 5) No one is about to emerge. 6) There is an incredible shortage of good coaches.
I keep telling myself that maybe that’s a little unfair. Maybe a governing body can’t build a champion. Maybe it will come together somehow, someway, some time.
Then we get to the efforts to get U.S. juniors learning on clay. Continue reading
So Patrick McEnroe has Donald Young’s apology. He and the USTA have Young’s words of appreciation for what they’ve done. And now, we forgive and forget.
Everyone loves a happy ending. Everyone loves a smiley face.
Young had a temper tantrum. McEnroe’s little feelings were hurt. It’s all over.
And how do things move forward? They go back.
Same spot they were before. And by that, I mean they go back to a relationship so bitter between aging prodigy and governing body that it can’t keep from bubbling over, out into the public.
What an amazing fail. Young was hyped from the age of 10, way before you can tell anything about the future of a male tennis player. But he was sold as tennis’ Tiger Woods. Instead tennis’ Tiger wrote on his Twitter account Friday, “FU—USTA!’’ He wrote that the USTA is “full of shi—! They have screwed me for the last time!’’
Now, Young has apologized. But what could have been a constructive, learning moment over the past few days turned instead into a little superfluous spat. By not doing the hard work that could go to mend this relationship, both sides, basically, are just trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
“Basically, I want to just apologize for what I said and the way I said it,’’ Young told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “It wasn’t the right way to say it, at all. I appreciate the USTA’s support over the years. It helped me out a lot.’’
That was an excellent apology, but Young was forced into it. McEnroe made Young dance by appealing to the public to apply pressure. That’s all that was accomplished. Young had to dance because he needs the USTA. The USTA, meanwhile, continues down a path with a zero success rate, not realizing how much of its reputation hinges on Young. Continue reading
I agree with Patrick McEnroe that today’s kids have a ridiculous sense of entitlement. In my opinion, especially with star athletes, it comes when you treat kids like rock stars, build them up too much. They are used to having things taken care of for them. You just focus on your greatness, we’ll deal with everything else. We’ll resolve your problems.
So they don’t live a normal childhood and then don’t know how to behave normally as adults. They have no practice at solving problems.
Donald Young has a ridiculous sense of entitlement.
Maybe that led to his profane outburst on Twitter Friday, when he wrote, “Fu—USTA!!’’ They’re “full of sh–!’’ Or, maybe not. That’s just McEnroe’s side of the story, that Young was upset he wasn’t handed a wildcard, a free pass, into the French Open. He didn’t want to play the six-person tournament the USTA had set up first. We still haven’t heard Young’s side of things.
Where are you Donald?
But let’s just take McEnroe’s word for now. He is frustrated, and had a teleconference Monday to talk about it, saying several things such as this: “You have to earn your way to get something.’’
It was a shot directed straight at Young. The problem was it wasn’t pointed the right way.
Don’t blame children for feeling entitled. It’s the adults. The kids aren’t born with an attitude problem, but have a lack of maturity, and also faulty teaching about compassion and empathy. Rock stars don’t need those things.
For example, imagine this: A sports agency and one of the greatest, and most popular tennis players of all time, get together to concoct a story that turns some 10-year old kid into The Chosen One. Turns him into tennis’ Tiger Woods. All he hears for years is that he’s the greatest. He can’t miss. And then, as a kid, he gets wildcard entries into pro events, where he can be crushed regularly, but everyone can ogle him. That, of course, interests Nike.
Meanwhile, the USTA pushes him as The Next Great Thing.
Well, we don’t have to imagine that, do we? That is Donald Young’s story. The USTA sold him – to us and to him and to his family—as the next great thing. Now, Patrick McEnroe, of the USTA, speaks out against his sense of entitlement? Of course he has a sense of entitlement. Continue reading
At this point, I wonder if the USTA will just cut ties with Donald Young. This could be its big chance to get rid of its biggest headache. And in some ways, that might be best for both sides. A nightmare relationship between prodigy and governing body hit an unbelievable depth Friday when Young wrote this on his Twitter account:
“Fu– USTA!! Their full of sh–! They have screwed me for the last time!’’
Only he didn’t shorten the words to keep them clean enough for publication. (Yes, he wrote “Their’’ instead of “They’re’’).
You just can’t write that, uh, stuff. You can disagree. You can point out that they are bullying you, that they are favoring others over you, that they are lying to you. Young and his parents, who coach him, have accused the USTA of all of those things over the years. But you can’t say Fu—them. Not publicly. Every line was stepped over, stomped on, spit on. That said, my first reaction was that Young is wrong:
The USTA will absolutely screw him again.
No matter how this thing is portrayed, no matter how the USTA tries to put this all on Young – today, Patrick McEnroe, head of USTA’s player development, will have a teleconference – this is a two-sided coin.
And the USTA had better be very careful. Let me put it bluntly: In a sport that has a history of being extremely white, it’s bad enough that the USTA can’t get along with one of the only black players to actually come through its system. It gets worse if that means all effort and hope are given instead to Ryan Harrison, a white kid from the south. That’s assuming Harrison’s relationship with the USTA is still solid.
And I’m not sure it is.
But the Young family is already looking at Harrison and making comparisons, wondering about special treatment. “Look at who gets all the wildcards (free and automatic entries into tournaments),’’ someone close to Young told me recently.
What an amazing run this has been for Young and the USTA, an amazing run of failure. It is not just a story of a failed kid, but also a failed governing body.
They have failed each other, failed themselves, failed you and me and the tennis world. At this point, Young and the USTA both look like losers. You want to pick sides? Go ahead.
This is the story of how not to develop a prodigy. He has been fumbled and mishandled by his own parents, by the USTA, by agents and by a hype machine that started with John McEnroe. Plus, Young has mishandled himself.
And what did we get? Not the savior of U.S. tennis, that’s for sure. Not a good-looking black kid from inner-city Chicago providing an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime boost to a game that could have used him. Continue reading
Greg Couch is an award-winning sports columnist based in Chicago. He covers college football for BleacherReport.com, NFL for RollingStone.com and freelances at several other places, including The New York Times. Lots of tennis, mostly here. He has traveled the world covering tennis and is a member of the International Tennis Writers Association. A former sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, his tennis writing has been in the book "The Best American Sportswriting."