Wimbledon: Garbiñe Makes Venus Cry Like Conchita Martinez Did With Martina Navratilova - UBITENNIS
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Wimbledon: Garbiñe Makes Venus Cry Like Conchita Martinez Did With Martina Navratilova

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Venus Williams’ tournament started with tears and ended with tears. Her disappointment can be compared to Navratilova’s setback 23 years ago. Williams’ lackluster performance in the second set was inexplicable. Was it because of the Sjogren’s syndrome or simple nerves?

 

Garbine Muguruza and Venus Williams (zimbio.com)

WIMBLEDON – Venus Williams’ tournament started with tears, when reporters asked her about the fatal car crash that she was involved in back home in Florida a few weeks ago. Venus’ Wimbledon also ended with tears, as Chris Evert – who saw Williams in the locker room after the final – reported to one of my American colleagues.

The women’s final basically lasted only one set, during which Venus Williams failed to capitalize on two set points when she was up 5-4 and 15-40 on Muguruza’s serve. After saving those set points and closing out the first set in 51 minutes, the Spaniard ran away with the second set and the title. When reporters asked Venus about what happened in the second set, the American didn’t provide any clear explanation. She simply gave credit to her opponent showing plenty of fair play. Venus is not someone who usually throws in the towel, instead during Saturday’s final her game completely abandoned her in the second part of the match, allowing Muguruza to capture 9 games in a row. The Spaniard only conceded 11 points in the second set – 6 on her serve and 5 on Venus’ serve.

Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome a few years ago, but it seems improbable that her condition played a role in the outcome of the match. It seemed to me that she fell victim of a psychological collapse. Perhaps her desire to lift her beloved Wimbledon trophy for the 6th time caused her an unbearable stress. Quite frankly her collapse looked strange, especially after such a hard-fought first set.

Conchita Martinez – the Davis and Fed Cup captain for Spain – was sitting in Garbiñe’s players box in a curious situation of history repeating itself. In fact, it is important to remember how Conchita made another 37-year-old legend cry on the same center court. In the 1994 final, Conchita bested none other than Martina Navratilova, who was looking for an elusive 10th Wimbledon title. Martinez – who was primarily a clay-court specialist and whose game was based on a massive top-spin forehand – surprised Navratilova with incredible backhand passing shots and became the first Spanish woman to capture the Wimbledon title in history. 64, 36, 63 was the score in favor of the Spaniard.

Had she won that classic final, Martina would have become the oldest female champion since Charlotte Cooper Sterry in 1908. Venus was looking to accomplish the same feat at this year’s Wimbledon.

Conchita started working with Garbiñe a few days before Wimbledon as a temporary replacement for coach Sam Sumyk, who decided to stay at home in Florida for family reasons. Muguruza hadn’t won any tournaments prior to Wimbledon this year, exactly like French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko before her triumph at Roland Garros last month. A few weeks before the French Open, the Latvian had also started to work with a Spanish “temporary” coach, Medina Garrigues. What a strange coincidence.

The first set of the final offered high quality rallies and great intensity with Venus failing to capitalize on multiple opportunities: She first missed a forehand that would have allowed her to lead 4-2 and then didn’t convert two set points when she was up 5-4. At 5-all, she committed a double fault and two forehand errors that cost her the first set.

Venus was also up 40-30 in the first game of the second set, but another double fault sabotaged her chances to hold serve. The match basically ended there, as Williams never recovered from the disappointment.

Muguruza quickly jumped to a 5-0 lead and unfortunately the match point proved to be anti-climactic, as Williams’ shot landed outside the baseline but the line judge failed to call the ball out. Muguruza had to rely on the hawk-eye challenge system to capture the decisive point of the match. Finally, the Spaniard went down on her knees in an outburst of emotions.

Garbiñe is a very nice girl and made the audience smile during the trophy presentation when she candidly admitted that “Venus is an incredible champion, I grew up watching her play… Sorry!” Venus was maternally laughing with the crowd as well.

When she was asked about a message for her coach Sumyk back home, Muguruza genuinely lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish in front of the camera and said: “Well, here it is!”

During her post-match press conference, Muguruza was also asked about her preference for the traditional Wimbledon Champions’ Ball, during which the ladies’ champion gets to dance with the gentlemen’s champion. “Roger! I would like to see if he’s as elegant as a dancer,” the Spaniard ironically said.
(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com )

Editorial

Guillermo Vilas: The Number One That Never Was

UbiTennis has collected the words that journalists and reviewers around the world have written on the new Netflix documentary, “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score”, which depicts a 12-year-long campaign to have the ATP recognise the Argentine champion as a former world number one.

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This article was originally published by “Lo Slalom”, an Italian newsletter 

 

On rewriting history or just making it clearer, by Monica Platas, Mundo Deportivo

Now 68, during his tennis career the Argentinian won four Grand Slam tournaments. In particular, in 1977 he won the Roland Garros, the US Open and 14 more tournaments, for a career total of 62. He had a record 53-match winning streak on clay courts, a feat surpassed only by Nadal. Vilas climbed to the second spot in the world ranking on April 30, 1975, keeping it for 83 weeks, but he never reached the top.

Netflix has just released a documentary titled “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score”. It describes the statistical investigation of Argentine journalist Eduardo Puppo, who demonstrates how and why the ATP never recognised that Vilas should have been No. 1 in the ranking at least once during the best years of his career.

Vilas was famous for several things:  his Southpaw shotmaking, amazing topspin, long hair, and bizarre behaviour. The newly founded Grand Prix circuit made use of very rudimentary technology in order to compute the players’ ranking, a system that painstakingly lacked rigor in its calculations. Because of this, the ATP does not recognise Vilas as a former number one to this day, but Eduardo Puppo has spent twelve years campaigning for the Argentine to be given what’s due. He produced a detailed report of 25,000 pages, recalculating the rankings in the period between August 1973 and the end of 1978. He finally demonstrated that Vilas did actually climb to the top of the rankings, outperforming Borg and Connors during some periods.

The Netflix documentary film shows the reporter’s frustrated illusion and emotional exhaustion facing this daunting task, but Puppo’s disappointment for the ATP’s repeated refusal to update the records is also central to the narrative. In an e-mail, the reporter is told: “Please don’t rewrite history.” This personal, professional and emotional journey on Puppo’s part is an effective narrative way to see again the biography of Guillermo Vilas in parallel with the Puppo’s work. In the documentary, we can listen to some fragments of the tape recordings that Vilas himself recorded while traveling around the world (these fragments were actually useless due to the low quality of the sound). The documentary film poses an interesting dilemma: since the aim of Puppo’s work is to recognize the merits of an athlete’s career, is this just an attempt to rewrite the history or is it a bona fide act of justice? The documentary includes statements by Federer, Becker, Nadal, Sabatini, Wilander and Borg honouring Guillermo by acknowledging his prominence in the sport. Neither Guillermo Vilas nor his journalist friend got the recognition they were looking for, but even if it’s not the same, the documentary will forever remain as a tribute. It does not help to rewrite the history of tennis, but it helps to explain it better. 

A healed fracture by Furio Zara, Blog Overtime Festival

A man, an obsession, an injustice. A story of sports and life. This documentary is a little gem that helps to define clearly and with love the profile of a champion mocked by ill fate.

What a fabulous tennis player. Vilas is manly, intractable, but only for a just cause. Ambition’s fire burned inside him. He was the son of a lawyer, raised in the comfort of the Argentine middle class. A pure lefty, he wore a band in his hair like his frenemy Borg; an introverted man by nature, women loved him nevertheless. A poet on and off the court, he dedicated a composition to Caroline, Princess of Hanover.  One of the best players on the dirt, he considered Wimbledon a court of “grass for cows.” Never to be tamed, he was capable of sensational strokes, a revolutionary who changed the history of tennis and was a role model for those who came after him. He is the father of the “Gran Willy”, also known as the tweener. His back to the net, he hit the ball in mid-air between his legs. He said: “The idea came to my mind while observing an ad with the Argentine tennis player Juan Carlos Harriott. He hit a ball under the legs of a horse, obviously not with the racket but with a polo mallet. It seemed fantastic and I mimicked it in my game.”

The documentary was helmed by Mexican director Matias Guilbert. It shows the fondness for Vilas of authentic tennis legends such as Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Rod Laver and Gabriela Sabatini. Federer honours him by saying, “he had a great influence on the tennis players who came after him.” Nowadays, Vilas is a 68-year-old man, an aging “bandolero” from the Pampas. He is suffering due to a neurodegenerative disease – there are only few moments of mental clarity in his daily life. As the title suggests, the aim of the documentary was not just to create a tribute to an unforgettable champion, but also to finally make things right.  

The gift of imperishable memory for a man who is losing his own by Marco Ciriello, Facebook

It is a hard sell to demonstrate that mistakes were made in the computing of the tennis rankings and that Guillermo Vilas was the best player in the world at some point in the mid-1970s. Journalist Eduardo Puppo has done it, analysing matches and figures, and spent years seeking the evidence to pay tribute to this champion and to get him the accomplishment he deserves. While Puppo was looking for data, points and therefore gestures, victories, cities, fields, tournaments, racquets, Vilas lost his memory. The Netflix documentary film, “Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score”, describes this endeavour, with the tapes recorded by Vilas reminiscing on his life, and the charts by Puppo aa a sort of backdrop to his playing career. It is a great act of love: for tennis, truth, and justice. People that do not know who Vilas is will fall in love with him. They will appreciate him not only for his lefty shots or for the strength of his game at the net. They will think highly of him also for Hendrix, for his vision of the world and his way of life, for having shown that an Argentine and a Swede (Borg) can complement each other: “Your forehand sucks like my backhand, so we helped each other.” Those who already know and love him will find more reasons to hold him in such high regard.

How Vilas’s undefeated streak came to an end, by Gianni Clerici 

An Austrian genius, Werner Fisher, invented a curious way of stringing racquets, and a Yankee philologist nicknamed them “Spaghetti Racquets”. The rotation of the ball was so impressive that an outraged Vilas withdrew from the final of the Aix-en-Provence tournament against Nastase, who played the previous match with the “Spaghetti”. This kind of racket was belatedly declared illegal, Vilas’s long streak already broken at this point.

Vilas’s tears, by Mariano Ryan, Clarín 

Is it necessary that Guillermo Vilas be recognized for what he was on a tennis court, i.e. a number one, a position he already occupies in Argentinian sports lore? And is it really essential, in order to understand his prominence, that someone should review his files and grant him the status of world-best for a few weeks, when for a whole year he clearly paced all his opponents? Is the ATP compelled to listen to the truth uncovered by Puppo in the documentary in order to provide justice? It is very likely that everything will remain as it has been until now and that the campaign will never produce the results it set out to accomplish. Nevertheless, his titles and triumphs cannot be cancelled. The image of Vilas will never change in people’s memory. A champion on and off the court. A stubborn man who wanted to be the best at what he did, and he was the best, for sure.  His tears at the end of the documentary will last.

The reason behind Guillermo’s tears, from La Naciòn 

This touching moment has its own story to tell. It happened at the end of 2016, just before the best Argentine tennis player in history moved to Monte Carlo. Vilas and Puppo were having a conversation about a book in progress. During their meeting, the camera was accidentally left on, and in that moment Vilas’s emotional distress fully showed. He couldn’t bear what he considered an injustice that had lasted for many years. Puppo holds him in the scene, hugs him and even mentions something about a tattoo on Guillermo’s left arm honouring Alejandro, the little brother he barely knew. When they became aware of the existence of that accidental registration, Puppo, Vilas and an attorney, Adrián Sautu de la Riestra, agreed that it should be included in the documentary film, despite the personal nature of the moment.

Earthly justice comes first, by Carlos Navarro, Punto de Break

The ending of the documentary is a sudden gut-punch. It’s akin to a stratospheric fifth set, an exciting title won in stoppage time. These final moments are the perfect conclusion to a journey that starts with the first steps of a young Argentine on the pro tour who ends up carving a spot for himself on the Mount Olympus of tennis. I don’t know if this beautiful Netflix documentary film will change anything. Neither the number one assigned by Tennis World magazine nor years of research can probably do that. What I do know is that it has become a proof to how humble people can do extraordinary things, of how an Argentine journalist and a Romanian mathematician could change the history of an entire sport. Vilas will end up being what he should have been because his life is in its final stages and earthly justice must come before higher ones.

The fragile Titans, by Andrés Burgo, La Nación

Fame, idolatry and eternity. But what about that number one spot? What is it to be the best? Few times I have seen a Titan look as fragile as Guillermo Vilas does in Netflix’s thrilling documentary. When I say fragile, I’m not talking about his health (that’s a private matter), but rather because, despite almost half a century passing by, the old gladiator still wants that the ATP to rectify its rankings. He is a champion, and we believe we are the ones who need champions, although maybe it’s the other way around. We believe that a champion is invincible. The ATP is more hateful than FIFA. Thinking about Maradona, a colleague reminds me of how interviews with Diego always ended in the 90s. “What do you miss in your life?” the reporter asked. “Being more beloved by the people,” Diego replied.

Borg never learned how to pronounce his first name, by Christopher Clarey (New York Times), via Twitter

The ATP did not release rankings regularly in the years when Vilas would have been the world N.1. The old system was based on players’ average results and thus penalized workhorses like Vilas. What I know for sure is he had the best season of any man in 1977. You would need a heart of stone not to feel Vilas’s pain in this film. It was not his quest in many ways. It started without him being aware of it, but being recognized as No. 1 clearly matters deeply to him. This film is also a chance to see remarkable footage of the young Vilas: flowing hair, soulful disposition and legs of steel. The strokes look languid in comparison to what Nadal & Co. do today. The game has evolved and, in my opinion, improved. But Vilas and Borg were great athletes who could have been stars today. Fun fact from the documentary: he and Borg were close friends despite the fact that the latter apparently never learned how to pronounce Guillermo’s first name.

A negative review

“My life is a discovery. I always look for meaning in every circumstance. The first time I saw fire, I burned myself and it was magnificent. It was warm and appealing, and I thought, ‘What if I touch it? Maybe the heat will get inside me. This is how I discovered the world and how I got here.’” In this way, Guillermo Vilas introduces himself in the documentary film directed by Matías Gueilburt. It’s a film about the Argentine athlete who was one of the great protagonists of world tennis in the 70s and 80s. He began hitting obsessively the ball against a wall in the garage of his house when he was six years old. The only restriction set by his mother was that he could break only one lightbulb a day. He was a stubborn son who chose an ostensibly “unprofitable career” against his parents’ wishes, a would-be lawyer in a country where idols were boxers like Carlos Monzón, Formula 1 drivers like Carlos Reutemann, and footballers like Mario Kempes. The work flows in a very scholastic way in comparison with other two that could be defined more experimental and fascinating, like “John McEnroe. In the realm of perfection”, directed by Julien Faraut and “Subject to Review”, directed by Theo Anthony. The documentary sifts through stock footage, unpublished audio (46 different samples!) recorded by Vilas himself since 1973, as well as interviews with champions who weigh in on his value as a player and on the innovations he brought to the game.

The story suddenly switches gears (and not for the better) when the world rankings come into play. The title and the opening minutes of the documentary evoke the image of a lonely man going through his growth and consecration while pigeonholing the different turning points that change his destiny from an open to a one-way path. A path with a final destination – triumph. Then, the narrative changes. From the obsessions of the man from Buenos Aires, we move to the obsession of a journalist, Eduardo Puppo, who tries to carry on Vilas’s battle. He wants to demonstrate that in some periods (especially 1975 and 1977, the year when Vilas won over 50 matches in a row) Vilas was at the top of the world rankings, despite the ATP claiming otherwise. The wish to re-write history is the reason why the quality of the documentary dips. The darkness and the demons that stir both in the champion and in his unexpected supporter vanish from the narration, losing the audience and blowing out the fire that constituted its initial appeal. (by Mazzino Montinari, Il Manifesto)

Translated by Giuseppe Di Paola; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Ken Rosewall At 86: The Man Who Could Have Won More Majors Than Federer And Nadal

His longevity is unmatched – he won his last title at 43. Navratilova and Evert met 80 times, Djokovic and Nadal 56; well, he and Laver squared off at least 164 times!

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One of my heroes, Ken Rosewall, turned 86 on Monday. He is one of the all-time greats, and it always seems unfair to me that the GOAT discussion should always encompass Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Laver, Sampras, or even Tilden and Budge, but never once the diminutive Aussie… The reason, besides the age of arguers who are usually too young to have witnessed his playing days, is also the fact that the debate usually boils down to how many Majors this or that player has won, which is understandable, but it eschews the fact that Rosewall had to miss 44 of those!

 

It’s hard to write about Ken without mentioning Rod Laver, his greatest rival, but in this article I will try to to mesh his long-standing Rocket affair with some personal anecdotes on my personal experience with Rosewall – some of them fairly recent.

This year’s French Open final was branded as the 56th duel between Djokovic and Nadal, a rivalry that has risen to be the most frequently combated of the modern era of tennis, with the Serbian leading the way with 29 wins to Rafa’s  recently clinched 27. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova met even more often, facing each other 80 times, 60 of which happened in finals! In a dualism spanning 16 years, Martina won 43 times to Evert’s 37.

Well, statheads will tell you that even the Navratilova v Evert rivalry pales in comparison to what Laver and Rosewall did – they met 164 times! Laver won 89 of those, conceding on 75 occasions – the actual tally might actually be well over 200. Some of these results include matches played in Nairobi, Harare, Knokke le Zoute, Lake Tahoe, and Perth – I don’t think Chrissie or Martina ever braved any of those places. However, just like them, rural Rod and city kid Ken (he hails from Sydney) became very close friends and never missed a chance to showcase their reciprocal respect. “I can’t remember how many times I played Ken,” Rod Laver told me the day the Centre Court in Melbourne was renamed after him. “Nobody kept count in those days, except maybe for your friend Rino Tommasi!”

Their careers can be divided in three acts:

  1. The amateur years, which for Rosewall lasted until 1956 and for Laver until 1962.
  2. The professional saga, i.e. the years in between the end of their dilettante debuts and 1968, living like gypsies at Jack Kramer’s behest. Laver won 11 Slams to Rosewall’s 8, but while the former had to skip 5 seasons and 20 of the greatest tournaments due to his pro status, the latter disappeared from the Slams for 11 seasons and 44 events – how many would he have won of those? Would he have been able to surpass Federer and Nadal’s current tally? I believe he would have. The pros had annual (almost) guaranteed contracts, but they were far too proud to tank a match, and always put the effort in – you can bet on both players’ desire to always have an edge on the rival.
  3. The Open Era, from 1968 onwards – the great revolution? The prize money. Very few players were able to make a living with tennis until 1968: there were those who played for authoritarian, Eastern European countries, others who were subsidised by their national federations (Pietrangeli in Italy, Santana in Spain, and some who elected not to go pro for various reasons), and then there were the pros. However, even the members of Kramer’s troupe weren’t exactly well off, since they had to pay for travel, day after day, in places that were pretty far from being the fancy hotel suites that contemporary champions enjoy. Rod Laver once recounted that in Khartoum insects were so numerous that they basically enforced a curfew over the city! “We were playing outdoors, and we kept going until a swarm of hornets showed up and physically dimmed the court’s spotlights – that was our night-night signal!” That night he and Rosewall weren’t actually slated to square off, so their duel tally wasn’t affected.

After helping Australia to three Davis Cup triumphs, Rosewall turned pro in 1956 at a time when Pancho Gonzales was the top dog among the Kramer-led group. Several Aussies had tried (and would try) to topple him, Sedgman, Cooper, Hoad, Anderson. In 1957, Gonzales beat Rosewall 50 times to “Muscle”’s 26, and the ensuing season he dominated with a 14-3 score – that would be 35 more wins for the American. Because of this early lead (which would extend into 1960, when he paced Rosewall 20 wins to 5), Pancho ended up prevailing in the head-to-head tally, 116-86. However, Ken had the edge in 1964, 1966, 1968, 1969 and 1970 – Gonzales, born in 1928, was six years older, explaining the progression of the rivalry, and also explaining why Laver had a comfortable 43-22 lead against him, although it should remember that he lost three times out of five in 1970, when Pancho was 42!

It was thus inevitable that Gonzales would give way to Rosewall, who validated his newfound pre-eminence by winning several tours and Pro Slams – he would end with a record-breaking 15 titles in the then de facto Majors. The tour needed some fresh competition, though, as he recounted himself: “In 1962, some of us were getting up there in terms of our age, so we needed to inject some new blood, and Rod had just completed a calendar year amateur Grand Slam… Lew Hoad and I helped to find 150,000 dollars, which were guaranteed to Rod over a three-year contract.”

“I admired Ken, but I was younger and I had never faced him as an amateur,” says Laver. “The first time I played him it was in Sydney as a professional… and he was too good for me!”

Rosewall won 11 of their opening 13 meetings throughout the American winter. Laver reminisces: “I wondered whether I had made a sound decision in joining the professional circuit, which meant having to drive on those icy roads while I could have been playing as an amateur in the Caribbean and getting handsomely reimbursed! But I wanted to compete against the best, and the pros were the best.”

It wasn’t an easy time. In 1963, after winning the previous year as an amateur, Laver lost against Rosewall at Forest Hills, and all the two finalists had to show for it… was a handshake, albeit hearty. “There was never any certainty regarding money… nor regarding the future as a whole.”

In 1967, Wimbledon organised a tournament for the pros, one months after the Championships. Laver handily won the event, and the AELTC realised that there was no point in keeping up the façade and in excluding the best in the business. Soon after, the committee voted to admit professionals from the ensuing season. 

By 1968, Rosewall and Laver were both over 30, but Ken still managed to win the very first Slam of the Open Era, defeating Laver at the French Open. A year later, the Rocket avenged his defeat, clinching the second Major of the year on his way to another Grand Slam.

Their most memorable matches would come later, at least from a commercial standpoint, since their WCT Finals matches in 1971 and 1972 were broadcast all over the world. The latter is still considered one of the greatest matches of all time, with Rosewall prevailing, 4-6 6-0 6-3 6-7(3) 7-6(5). Laver had a 5-4 lead in the decider’s tie-breaker with two serves on hand, but Rosewall counterpunched with two signatures backhands to net the 50,000 dollars winner’s loot, a hefty sum for the time. Muscle was 37 years old: “I never thought I’d be able to play in a match like this at 37… By now, I thought I would have been selling insurance…”

Well, he kept going for a few more years, winning more titles: his final trophy came in Hong Kong in 1977, when he was 43, two years after Laver’s last win in Orlando, Florida, at 37 years old. As I mentioned, they dueled 164 times over a 14-year span, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, since many other matches were lost down “the long winding road,” as the Beatles would sing. Laver had a 22-9 edge during the Open Era, but Rosewall won their final outing in Houston – at least, these numbers are certain.

On page 2, the last time I met Rosewall

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A Response To The Decline Of American And Australian Men’s Tennis

Former national coach and tennis journalist Mark Winters addresses a recent article about the decline of men’s tennis in the two countries with the help of a long-time friend from Australia.

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I found “On The Decline Of American (And Australian) Men’s Tennis” fascinating. Both Ubaldo and Steve Flink are long-time tennis friends of mine and because they are I feel comfortable offering some interesting food for thought. 

 

The question that was posed concerning the US and Australian decline in men’s tennis is tremendously complex and there are no “set” answers as to what brought about this demise. What’s more, the numbers don’t tell the full story about what has taken place. 

I sent the article to a long-time Australian friend, who has a playing background but more important, has been involved in the game “Down Under” for ages. He understands the Tennis Australia system thoroughly. He provided some insights and I will offer mine based on my experiences with the USTA. (As background, I was a “hack” of a player; served as a Boys’ National Team Coach and as a clinician; and have been a tennis journalist for fifty years.)

In both the US and Australia, the national tennis federations have done a horrific job. They continually change course with regard to plans and direction which results in more than mixed messaging – more like a GPS offering “re-routing” or “make a U-turn”. Politics and egos regularly add to the situation’s befuddlement. While this is a conundrum seen in most sports organizations, in tennis it is worse because those in leadership roles, for the most part, share one distinction – They were players. Broadly speaking, just because an individual reached elite status on the court doesn’t mean they have the wide-ranging vision that is necessary (essential is probably a better word) to establish meaningful, building block, step by step development programs. As administrators (and often the same holds when former players try to establish new careers as coaches), it is difficult for them to move beyond the linear focus that served them so well as competitors. For them the future was…the next match, the next tournament and little beyond.

More to the point, federations “do not a player make…” They should offer opportunities to travel and most importantly, financial support, but overall these organizations have yet to take a youngster from the beginning stages of his/her career to a world ranking. This is why, and I realize this is so logical it is often ignored, local coaches, who are much more than teachers but more importantly, communicators, are so essential. If they are able to establish solid working relationships with those responsible for player oversight on the national level, a win-win result…but this rarely happens for a plethora of reasons highlighted by personality differences.

As my friend noted, “It is also amazing how gullible people can be. Coaches get a hold of a viable prospect, and many years pass, until it’s too late.” It is like a seesaw, actually a metronome, always ticking away. Some coaches receive kudos and in time develop a cult-like following. Others who are not dynamic self-promoters, receive little recognition, yet they may actually be better coaches. But, as the saying goes, “BS sells…”

My friend added, “Australia is behind the ‘eight ball’ in the global game because of distance…” There is also the fact, “…Europeans are less prone to thinking of themselves as troops of a national sporting campaign, though an exception is France.  Their country’s players see themselves as competitors, not tomorrow’s ‘our world number one’ as Ash Barty kept being referred to during all of last year. That is, until she didn’t make our (Australian Open) final as everyone had hoped.”

In the US, different words can be used but the problem is the same. Youngsters as soon as they evidence almost any repeated success are baptized “The Next”. The “blessing”, as it were, results in microscopic –  “Is he/she really…” – analysis, (in both countries), after a couple of good tournament performances. Those caught in this dance try to keep up but the music is constantly changing so their dance moves become muddled. More and more today, there is an added problem. The coach of “the phenomenon” is a parent. Having failed in some competitive sport, they try to have “a new career” as a coach but have little real tennis expertise. Further,  parenting a child doesn’t guarantee that the individual is aware of the emotional balancing act that is an intricate part of being a coach/dad or coach/mom. Nonetheless, parents/coaches regularly discuss the sensitive juggling that is required when they have, in truth, been learning tennis as a “father” or “mother” observer.

Tennis is a complex sport. Not only must an individual have some athletic ability, but the skill must be supported by someone (often the family) and bolstered by an individual’s self-confidence, along with either boldness or stubbornness (or both). Perhaps even more important is having the ability to deal with defeat and still make progress. Because of these and other requirements, tennis in the US and Australia doesn’t get extraordinary athletes. It, and I am speaking broadly, gets the “mechanics” not the “creative architects” for the most part. (Yes, I know that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are “creators” but someone like Schwartzman is, and this is not to be demeaning, a very good “mechanic”.)

Another major issue is appeal. With all the sports offerings in the US and Australia why would tennis be especially  captivating? True, it is a family game so it regularly becomes part of family members DNA. Still, there needs to be more to spur interest in the sport and as I pointed out above, both federations have failed almost completely in messaging.

Unfortunately, working with “social media attention spans”, which are notoriously short,  efforts to call attention to players have become quick to mention “blips”.  The article talked about prospects such as Brandon Nakashima and Rinky Hijikata and their position as “up and comers” yet neither governing body has made a novel effort to call attention to the game’s future. It is still selling Lleyton Hewitts …

My friend pointed out, “The European tennis ‘boom’ coincided with the lifting of the Iron Curtain that created a greater freedom for a true competitive mix…” Tennis had been viewed as a bourgeoisie activity that now was open to the “striving masses”. Cheryl Jones, my wife who was a very reputable player in her younger days, has written about the game for years (often for Ubitennis). She interviewed and wrote about Jennifer Capriati numerous times. One of Capriati’s most telling comments was about “having fire in her belly to succeed…”

With many US players this is missing. Oh, they talk about commitment, about how hard they work, but, more often than not, it is all talk. They simply don’t “burn with desire” because there is really no need or inspiration to become a forest fire. A few “ember” wins here and there is enough to maintain, so these people think, status as a tennis player. Not to go “overboard philosophically”, tennis doesn’t consume their souls. They play it, enjoy it and are rewarded by their results, but when asked to reach within and respond to what it means to be a player, it is quantified in wins and losses…not an “I can touch it, taste it” expression of feeling.

These are, in my view, the most relevant aspects of this multi-faceted problem. I thank you once more for bringing this debate to my attention, and I hope I have been able to give “some interesting food for thought” myself.

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