On The Decline Of American (And Australian) Men’s Tennis - UBITENNIS
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On The Decline Of American (And Australian) Men’s Tennis

The best player from the US, John Isner, is 35 and ranked outside the world Top 20, while the only truly great prospect seems to be 19-year-old Brandon Nakashima – this might be the lowest point for American tennis.

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A few days ago, a reader sent us some interesting observations: “While sifting through the latest ATP Ranking, I asked myself: who is the highest-ranked American? How high is he? When I realized it was John Isner, sitting at N.23, I thought of the famous Latin phrase, ‘sic transit gloria mundi.’ When I was young, the Yankees dominated along with the Australian’s, who seem to be on the rocks themselves. Is it just my impression? If it isn’t, which could be the reasons for such a decline?

It seems to us that the topic may be of interest to many, so we decided to answer the first part of the question, starting from some statistical data obtained by:

· The first ATP Ranking released in 1973.

· The first ranking of the four following decades.

· The most recently released rankings.

Here is the result:

Here are some observations.

The first ITF global report in 2019, which was elaborated by 195 national tennis federations, shows that there are about 87 million tennis players in the world; in the areas of our interest the numerical distribution is this:

 USAEUROPAAUSTR.
    
Number of practitioners (millions)18272.3
Number of male practitioners (m)8.2161.4

In Europe, there is a Top 100 player every 235,000 men; in Australia, one every 280,000; in the USA, one every 911,000 (we think that is appropriate to reflect on these data, dear parents and kids, before making a decision vis-à-vis whether or not trying to follow the path of professional tennis).

In 1973, the United States occupied 23 of the Top 100 positions and 6 of the Top 20; at the beginning of the following decade, their edge over the rest of the world was equally if not more overwhelming. In the last thirty years, however, this prominence has gradually disappeared: first in terms of quantity and then of quality; the last American to occupy top spot was Andy Roddick on January 26, 2004, and the last one in the Top 10 was John Isner on January 27, 2019. The new faces of American tennis do not appear to point to the imminent advent of an American Male Renaissance: among the 9 players present in the top 100 today, the youngest is Frances Tiafoe, who will turn 23 next January and occupies the 63rd spot; the best-positioned teenager is 19-year-old Brandon Nakashima at N.203, followed by his peer Jenson Brooksby at N.299; far behind is Govind Nanda, N.709. Given such premises, it will be difficult for the US to get back to winning ways in the Davis Cup, a competition in which their record tally is stuck at 32 since 2007. 

Australia cannot yet be called a bygone men’s tennis power, since it hasn’t been that long since they boasted the best player in the world, i.e. Lleyton Hewitt on May 12, 2003 – he was also the last Australian to make the Top 10 in July 2006. However, this is a far cry from the age when this nation competed with the United States for the sceptre of world tennis. To give a more complete idea of ​​what Australia represented in the past for tennis, between 1950 and 1967 they won the Davis Cup 15 times (the USA won the remaining three); since 1973, the Aussies have bagged six more, the last one in 2003. For the foreseeable future, they can count on twenty-one-year-old Alex de Minaur, ranked 29th in the world, and on the wayward moods of Nick Kyrgios, currently 43rd; further down the line, they can count, to a lesser extent, on Alexei Popyrin, a peer of De Minaur, but more untested at high levels, but mostly they will have to rely on the Divine Providence, since the best-ranked Australian teen is 19-year-old Hijkata at N.672.

The numbers tell us that, since 1973, Europe’s trajectory has been almost specular to the Australian one. At the beginning of the 1980’s, men’s tennis in the Old Continent was going through a period of severe crisis, from which it was able to brilliantly recover – since February 2004, a European has occupied the throne in the world rankings with no interruptions. At the team level, since the beginning of the new millennium, a European country has lifted the Davis Cup 16 times out of 19. There are no credible alternatives to this sporting dictatorship on the horizon: among youngsters, the sole Denis Shapovalov (who has European origins himself) seems to have the potential to be able to aspire to a Major win; extending the analysis to the very young – i.e. the top ten tennis players born after January 1, 2001 – the tune is the same, since five of them are Europeans including the three most promising:

1.      Sinner, Italy, 46     

2.      Musetti, Italy, 123          

3.      Alcaraz, Spain, 136           

4.      Nakashima, USA, 203     

5.      Tseng, Taiwan, 288

6.      Draper, UK, 297            

7.      Brooksby, USA, 299        

8.      Zeppieri, Italy, 317          

9.      Baez, Argentina, 330               

10.  Cerundolo, Argentina, 345      

Countries belonging to the former Iron Curtain (and Yugoslav) block have been giving a significant contribution at the success of the European tennis for a long time; as a matter of fact, there are 19 representatives of these nations in the top 100:

  • Serbia 5          
  •  Slovenia 1         
  • Russia 3           
  • Poland 1          
  • Moldova 1        
  • Lithuania 1         
  • Hungary 2       
  • Czech Republic 1                       
  • Croatia 2          
  • Belarus 1     
  • Bulgaria 1          

At the end of our analysis, we believe that the feelings of our reader have been largely confirmed.  However, the second part of the question (the most important) he posed to us remains unsolved: if the USA and Australia are really in decline, what are the causes?

Website CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta and his good friend Steve Flink, with their deep knowledge of the top tennis systems, could try to give us an answer in one of their future videos. We are simply humble scribes of the editorial staff – lacking such knowledge and aware of the fact that the vision that is drawn from the numbers we have presented is partial, because of the limited sample examined. All we can hope for is that our work can at least offer some interesting food for thought.

Original article by Roberto Ferri; translated by Matteo Pelliccia; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro

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Image via https://twitter.com/RioOpenOficial/

One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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