Category Archives: US tennis

How Not to Develop a Prodigy, Part III: Patrick McEnroe Gets His Apology, Makes Donald Young Dance. Now What?

Donald Young

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.

Not possible.

“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

How Not to Develop a Prodigy, Part II: Patrick McEnroe Rips Entitlement of Donald Young, U.S. Youth (Forgets Where it Came from)

Donald Young

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

How Not to Develop a Prodigy: Donald Young Tweets “Fu– USTA.” Will USTA Dump Him?

Patrick McEnroe

Donald Young

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

An American Tennis Moment: Mardy Fish Debuts His New Top US Rank. (But did you see Andy Roddick Caddying?)

Mardy Fish

REPORTING FROM HOUSTON — Andy Roddick wore the white jumpsuit, a No. 23 on this chest, green ballcap and sunglasses, and he lugged the golf bag as the caddy for Zach Johnson Wednesday in the Par 3 contest at Augusta National. It was the day before the Masters.

On the 9th hole, Johnson allowed Roddick to hit the tee shot.

“My hands are shaking,’’ Roddick said. “I can barely put the tee in the ground.’’

It became a buzz moment for tennis. Roddick has a way, just by being Roddick, of bringing attention to himself and to his game. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s married to Brooklyn Decker, Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model). And tennis can use the attention.

So in the best interest of tennis, I shouldn’t begrudge Roddick of another moment.

But I do.

Someone else should be having tennis’ moment. It’s tonight in Houston, the marquee match at the U.S. Clay Court Championship. Quietly, Mardy Fish will be having a personal moment, I guess, when he plays Albert Ramos of Spain.

It will be first time Fish plays as the top-ranked American.

“I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t have a nice ring to it,’’ he said. “But it’s really tough to feel like I’m the No. 1 American, to be honest. You could put Andy’s career on top of mine probably 10 times.’’

That’s what helps to make the moment. Continue reading

Panic Time on Getting Venus, Serena Williams into Olympics. USTA Tries Hail Mary

Serena and Venus

See if this passes the smell test: The US Tennis Association announced Tuesday that Venus Williams has officially “made herself available’’ to play for the U.S. Fed Cup team next week in Germany. Yet she has no intention of playing.

She will travel all the way to Stuttgart to be with the team for the big match, but is still too hurt to play.

Loyalty to the team? Uh, no.

“She’s been rehabbing her injury from Australia,’’ Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez said Tuesday. “Hopefully, she’ll be able to practice. I don’t expect her to play, but obviously in the next 10 days if she’s playing great and feeling fit, then there’s always that possibility.’’

Sorry, but I’m going to have to call b.s. here on Venus Williams, Mary Joe Fernandez, and most of all, the USTA. Just go with the truth. Williams is out.

At this point, there is a very real possibility that the Williams sisters will not be allowed to play in the Olympics. That’s what this is all about.

The only reason Venus is flying overseas for a team and match she has no interest in, is to manipulate rules so she can stay eligible for the 2012 London Games.

Serena Williams was considering the same thing, making herself “available’’ and traveling to the same event she wasn’t going to play in. But while she recovers from blood clots in her lungs, travel isn’t safe. So she’s staying home.

The USTA is in full-out panic mode. Why? Because if the Williams sisters don’t get into the Olympics, then it’s likely the U.S. will not have any women ranked high enough to play singles in the Olympics at all. Continue reading

Andy Roddick Drops from Top 10. Will He Get Back In?

I’m not even sure what it means, exactly, to write off Andy Roddick. But I just have a sense that that’s what I’m doing. It’s what I’m feeling.

Andy Roddick, so long ago

After his early loss in Miami to some guy named Pablo Cuevas, Roddick, now No. 8, will drop down to, roughly, No. 15 when new rankings come out Monday. He will definitely be out of the top 10.

And I’m not sure he’ll ever get back in.

This whole project with coach Larry Stefanki, one-last run for a second major title, is not going to come through for Roddick. It has peaked. It was thrilling to see the immediate results, a near-Wimbledon title in 2009, when Roddick lost a classic five-set final to Roger Federer. He beat Rafael Nadal on the way to winning in Miami last year, too.

For nearly a decade, Roddick has been the face of American men’s tennis, and a regular in the top 10. But he has driven us crazy, stuck at one major and one moment at No. 1.

The argument for him has been this: He would have won way more if not for the colossal bad luck of two of the greatest players of all time – Federer and Nadal – coming along during his prime.

The truth is, Roddick let the top of the game pass him by. If the Federer-Nadal argument were real, then Roddick would have been ranked No. 3 all these years. He hasn’t been No. 3 since 2007. Continue reading

Milos Raonic: Made in, uh, North America? Sounds Like Title for New Springsteen Tune

My column on AOL Fanhouse

The U.S. Tennis Association and Patrick McEnroe, its head of player development, are finalizing details on a new $50 million push to teach tennis The Canada Way.

OK, maybe not. I just made that up.

But the new buzz in tennis is 20-year old Milos Raonic (right), who hadn’t done much in the minor leagues, wasn’t a great junior and, most amazing of all, is from Canada.

So now, the U.S., with tons of money, cannot even develop players as well as Canada? What next? Iceland?

Well, Andy Roddick, the face of U.S. men’s tennis, saved U.S. tennis’ face Sunday, diving for a forehand passing shot, probably the best shot of his life, to beat Raonic in the finals in Memphis, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5. It was a fairly big moment for Roddick, holding off the leader of the next generation.

But Raonic has stolen tennis since the Australian Open. It’s always thrilling to see the sudden emergence of the Next Big Thing. You think of it as a process, a development, a step-by-step to the mountaintop. Raonic just appeared with a 150 mph serve and the face and body of a 14-year-old. Well, a 6-foot-5 14-year old.

How was everyone beating him way back in, say, August?

It makes you wonder: is there any way to teach greatness, or does it just find its way all by itself?

The USTA is trying everything. Nick Bollettieri spurred on the last great American tennis charge — the era of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and others — by putting the best kids together on the same courts, fighting it out with each other every day. A generation elevated itself.

So the USTA is trying that, with its national training centers. Some people think you can’t just pull kids away from their homes, so the USTA set up regional centers, too. 

What about the Spanish Way? Spain has developed a ton of top players, including Rafael Nadal, and it brings kids together and teaches the game on the slow, red clay, where you learn to build a point and think things through.

The USTA is building clay courts, keeping low-level pro tournaments, such as the one in Peoria, Ill., alive because they are on clay. Of course, in the U.S., they use green clay, which is nothing like the red stuff. When the U.S. brought in Argentine junior Andrea Collarini, a clay court expert, to play for America, he fell on the green stuff and hurt his arm. He also told me he used to walk onto the court with his arms held out, like a shaky new ice skater.

Anyway, the USTA, with so much money coming in because it has one of tennis’ majors, the U.S. Open, is either covering all bases or creating a hodgepodge. We’ll know in a couple of years.

But Canada? Raonic said Tennis Canada started helping him just three years ago.

In July, he was ranked No. 278. In January, he wasn’t in the top 150. Then, he got to the second week of the Australian Open, beating Mikhail Youzhny, who was ranked No. 10.

In the past couple of weeks, he won the tournament in San Jose, got two wins over No. 9Fernando Verdasco, and beat No. 16 Mardy Fish. It took the greatest shot of his career for Roddick to beat him. Raonic is now ranked No. 37, the best player from Canada ever. Continue reading