International Junior Competition is Stronger – American Juniors Struggle at Australian Open

The talent in the junior division at the Grand Slams has become more diverse over the years. As a result, both the American boys and girls faced stiff competition in the Australian Open Juniors competition, but both managed to have players reach the round of 16.

Nicole Mossmer, J. Rodriquez-Benito, Caty McNally, Hurricane Tyra Black, and Natasha Subhash lost their first round matches. Both Carson Branstine and Taylor Johnson posted 2 wins and 1 loss as they bowed out in the round of 16.

To illustrate the diversity of the draw, the 8 quarterfinalists represented 8 countries:    Canada, Great Britain, India, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Ukraine.

Overall, the 7 American girls won 4 matches and lost 7.

In the boys draw Olukayode Ayeni and Trent Bryde lost in the first round. Tristian Boyer won his first match before losing in the second round.

Alexandre Rotsaert won two matches before losing in the round of 16.

Overall, the 4 American boys won 3 matches and lost 4.

As was the case in the girls draw, there was also significant geographic diversity on the boys side. The 8 quarterfinalists represented the following 7 countries: China, Cyprus, (2) France, Hungary, Finland, Israel, and Russia.

It is easy to be critical of the USTA Player Development Program for the fact that none of the American juniors advanced past the round of 16. Typically very few American juniors play the Australian Junior Open and their performance is often lackluster.

In addition, it is easy to see that a number of countries other than the United States are developing world-class players. With stronger and greater geographic diversification, it is even more challenging to for the USTA to develop the top junior players in the world. Look for better things at the French Open and Wimbledon.

 

Making Tennis Great Again – Federer and Nadal at the 2017 Australian Open

There were many great individual success stories at the 2017 Australian Open. The comeback of Venus Williams to reach the finals against her sister was a dream come true for tennis fans. The return to glory for Federer and Nadal was even more spectacular because neither was expected to reach the finals.

As a relatively unknown, Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003. Six months later, he won his first Australian Open. Federer’s 2017 victory over Nadal was his fifth Australian Open championship.

Federer’s first Grand Slam seems like it was light years ago. George Bush was midway through his first term as U.S. President and Chicago won an Oscar for best movie of the year.

Since Federer’s victory at Wimbledon in 2003, there have been 55 Grand Slams, including the 2017 Australian Open. Roger Federer has won 18, Nadal has won 14, and Djokovic has won 12. That is 44 Grand Slams.

Other players have won only 11 events. Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have both won 3 Slams each and there were five “one-hit” wonders. In other words, only 10 different men have hoisted a Grand Slam trophy since Wimbledon 2003.

Of those 11 Slams that the big three did not win, one member of the trio was in the finals of six events. Since Wimbledon 2003, there have been only 5 Grand Slam finals that did not include Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic.

If this was baseball, fans would be hollering, “Break up the Yankees”.

At no point during this period of 55 Grand Slams has an American captured a championship. Andy Roddick was the last American to appear in a slam finals (2006 U.S. Open). Andre Agassi retired at that event, leaving Roddick as the top American male player.

The combination of Agassi’s retirement and the depth of great European players has made it rough sledding for the American men. That was evident at the 2017 Australian Open.

Fourteen American men were entered at Melbourne. Eight of them started out strong. First round losers included 6 players: Michael Mmoh, Jared Donaldson, Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Bjorn Fratangelo, and Donald Young. With the exception of Donald Young, the other five are part of the youngsters who are making the transition from solid junior careers to the professional circuit. There is reason to be optimistic they will become strong contenders in the next 2 to 3 years.

Things took a turn for the worse in the second round when John Isner, Ryan Harrison, Noah Rubin, Steve Johnson, Frances Tiafoe, and Ernesto Escobedo were ousted.

The remaining two American men, Sam Querrey and Jack, Sock lost in the third round.

Overall, the American men won 10 matches while losing 14. Hopefully better times are in store for the young American men.

As for Federer and Nadal… wouldn’t it be great if they reached the finals of several other Grand Slams this year?

Next stop, French Open.

federer and nadal

Making American Tennis Great Again – The Williams Sisters

A group of American women had noteworthy accomplishments at the 2017 Australian Open. For a few days they made American tennis great again.

CoCo Vandeweghe showed that she is a rising star for the Americans. The question is whether she will become a consistent top 10 contender or flame out like others before her.

Nicole Gibbs and Jennifer Brady demonstrated that it is possible to go the route seldom taken. They played college tennis before joining the professional circuit full-time. Most players avoid college and work with the USTA Player Development Program instead. Gibbs played three years at Stanford and was an All-American and two-time NCAA single champion. Brady was an All-American in her two years at UCLA.

Mirjana Lučić-Baroni, a 34-year old Croatian, surprised many by reaching the semifinals before being ousted by Venus Williams. Lučić-Baroni was a top junior in the late 1990s before dropping off the screen. Her comeback now includes a spot in the top 50 in the world. It remains to be seen if she has the staying power to maintain her current ranking.

These were great accomplishments; however, they were overshadowed by the success of the Williams sisters. Their journey to the finals t will likely be their last Grand Slam singles finals against each other as Serena captured her 23rd Grand Slam singles final with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the 36-year old Venus.

Led by the Williams sisters, the American women were a dominant force Down Under. Of the 18 Americans, only 7 were defeated in the first round: Louisa Chirico, Madison Brengle, Christina McHale, Lauren Davis, Vania King, Anna Tatishvili, and Kayla Day. This group of young women have experienced success as junior players, but struggled in their transition to the professional game.

Five women won their first round match before being bumped in the second round: Samantha Crawford, Shelby Rogers, Varvara Lepchenko, Julia Boserup, and Irina Falconi.

Alison Riske and Nicole Gibbs posted two wins before exiting in the round of 32.

Jennifer Brady exited in the round of 16 with three wins, while Vandeweghe was 5-1 before losing in the semis. Coco”s victories included a convincing upset of Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals.

Overall, the American women won 30 matches and lost 17. Combined, the Williams sisters won 13 of the 30 matches won by American women.

Congratulations to Serena for adding her 23rd Grand Slam and to Venus for showing the world that a 36-year-old woman can play tennis with the best of the young whippersnappers. For a few days in Melbourne, these ladies helped make American tennis great again.

 

Teaching Respect in Sports – the Cougar Way

Great sports programs find creative ways to distinguish themselves for the way they teach techniques, tactics, and values such as respect, discipline, patience, and perseverance. More importantly, great programs teach their athletes “why” these skills, strategies and values are important. This is in line with one of the USA Volleyball’s axioms for coaching – The teams whose coaches teach their athletes “why” will beat the teams whose coaches teach their athletes “how”.

That point is illustrated in the following picture taken during the national anthem at the volleyball match between Washington State University and the University of Colorado during the 2016 PAC-12 season.

Respect
Washington State University athletes and coaches showing respect during the national anthem

For years, the Lady Buffs and every visiting team have stood at attention during the national anthem.

The Washington State University Cougars take it a step further. As a team, they show respect for the flag and what it should mean to all Americans. In addition, they did this long before San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick made a decision to refuse to stand for the playing of the national anthem during the 2910 NFL preseason. Hats off to the Cougars (and the flag)!

Coaches Jen and Burdette Greeny have taught their athletes “why” it is important to show respect for the flag. In the process of teaching their athletes “why”, they have reinforced the importance of understanding the value of showing respect for themselves, their teammates, coaches, officials, opponents, and others.

Hats off to the Greenys and the coaches in all sports who teach important values such as respect and discipline to their athletes.

Engage the Athlete – Kessel Style

The most effective theories for business, education, and management are centered on the concept of engagement. In business, Theory Y leadership has been proven more effective at engaging employees than Theory X leadership in most situations. In education and coaching the following Teddy Roosevelt quote is often cited, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Engage the student! Engage the athlete!

John Kessel, member of the American Volleyball Coaches (AVCA) Hall of Fame, writes a blog Growing the Game Together for USA Volleyball. In it, he discusses the process of engaging athletes – Kessel Style. His posts have catchy titles, but more importantly, they are thought provoking. John is a master at coaching technique and tactics, but the focus of his blog is to get coaches to engage the athlete. For example:

  • He suggests that coaches should encourage kids to make mistakes. How many of your kid’s coaches do that? Do they yell at them instead when they make a mistake?
  • He talks about the illusion of knowledge, false confidence, and false fundamentals. What are these concepts and why are these concepts important?
  • He suggests that coaches need to learn to be quiet, watch, and listen. Do you believe the coaches in youth sports programs should be always talking to the athletes to help them improve?
  • He says that coaches should not punish their athletes as a way of trying to improve their performance. How many push-ups have your kids had to do because something went wrong in practice?

Read on! The following links are just a sample of posts about how to engage the athlete at a higher level.

Promoting False Confidence (November 7, 2016)
I Want You To Make Mistakes (November 1, 2016)
Be Consistent
(October 20, 2016)
Suffering From the Illusion of Knowledge (September 16, 2016)
What is it with Physical Punishment in So Few Sports (May 7, 2016)
Fearing Free Lessons from Washington D.C. (May 20, 2016)
How Much Can Athletes Teach Themselves (April 15, 2016)
A Major Change in My Feedback (January 15, 2016)
It’s all about the Reps, ’bout the Reps, and Game-like… (September 22, 2015)
False Fundamentals (August 24, 2015)
Stay Quiet and Let Them Play (July 29, 2015)
STOP Teaching Robots (June 6, 2015)
You are Paying for Practice Not Playing (March 30, 2015)
Coach Taught or Player Learned? (January 23, 2015)
Standing in Line (January 16, 2015)
Irrelevant Training (October 20, 2014)
STOP Teaching Technique… (April 25, 2014)

Kessel’s blog presents the concept of engagement as it relates to the sport of volleyball. These concepts apply to tennis and other sports.

Read the above posts (and others) and give it some thought. If necessary, go back and read them again in a couple of days or weeks. Without a doubt, you will develop a different perspective about coaching.

The bottom line is “ENGAGE the athlete!”

engage the athlete
John Kessel engages the athletes at a grass volleyball clinic in Vail.

 

Sam Querrey Posts Top Performance for American Men at Wimbledon

The quality of American men’s tennis has gradually deteriorated since Pete Sampras unofficially retired in 2002. It dropped off further when Andre Agassi played his last match in 2006. The final nail in the coffin was delivered when Andy Roddick stepped away from the sport in 2012. For the past 13 years there has been very little to cheer about on the men’s side, especially at the Grand Slam tournaments.

Recently, John Isner has been the top performer. With his big serve he has frequently been ranked between 15th and 25th. That means he has usually been seeded in that same range. Over time, he has been a dependable performer. In many tournaments he has usually held his seed and had the best record of any of the American men.

At this year’s Wimbledon Isner was seeded 18th. Even though he had a 2-1 record and was defeated in the round of 32 he did not have the top performance of the American men.

Sam Querrey provided a pleasant surprise for the American men with a 4-1 record! As the 28th seed he defeated Lucas Rosol (Czechoslovakia) in the first round and Thomaz Beluci (Brazil) in the second round. Then he stunned Novak Djokovac (Serbia) in 4 sets in his third round match. Querrey continued his winning ways in the round of 16 by defeating Nicolas Mahut (France) before bowing out to Milos Raonic (Canada) in the quarterfinals.

The 11 American men posted a respectable 14-11 record at Wimbledon this year.

The five first round losers included Denis Kudla, Bjorn Fratangelo, Brian Baker, Taylor Fritz, and Rajeev Ram.

Five Americans won their second round matches. Donald Young was the only player to exit with a 1-1 record.

Jack Sock, Dennis Novikov, and John Isner were 2-1 and lost in the round of 32.

Like Querrey, Steve Johnson had a strong performance, finishing 3-1 and departing in the round of 16.

Most likely the surprising performance of Querry and Johnson is an anomaly. One can only hope that Querrey, Johnson, and Isner will continue their winning ways at the U.S. Open next month. Stay tuned!

Serena Leads Strong Performance by American Women at Wimbledon

Serena Williams topped off an exceptionally strong performance by the American women at Wimbledon with her 22nd Grand Slam singles trophy. In addition, Serena and Venus captured their 6th women’s doubles title.

Overall the 18 American women were 25-17 in singles, although the Williams sisters accounted for almost half of those victories. Venus was 5-1 and lost in the semis, while Serena was 7-0.

Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys both had respectable 3-1 showings as they reached the round of 16. Vandeweghe was seeded 27th and Keys was 9th.

The nine American women to lose in the first round were: Anna Tatishvili, Alison Riske, Nicole Gibbs, Louisa Chirico, Madison Brengle, Victoria Duval, Irina Falconi, Shelby Rogers, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Christina McHale, Varvara Lepchenko, and Samantha Crawford were each 1-1. They bowed out in the round of 64.

Julia Boserup and Sloane Stephens fared slightly better. They were 2-1 and lost in the round of 32.

The performance is in line with the WTA rankings. On June 20th there were 3 American women in the top 10, 5 in the top 30, and 14 in the top 100. It is impressive to be able to say that about 1-in-7 players among the top 100 are American women.

World Ranking Athlete Birthday
1 Serena Williams 26-Sep-81
9 Venus Williams 17-Jun-80
10 Madison Keys 17-Feb-95
20 Sloane Stephens 20-Mar-93
29 Coco Vandeweghe 6-Dec-91
61 Shelby Rogers 13-Oct-92
62 Madison Brengle 3-Apr-90
64 Varvara Lepchenko 21-May-86
66 Christina McHale 11-May-92
72 Irina Falconi 4-May-90
74 Louisa Chirico 16-May-96
76 Nicole Gibbs 3-Mar-93
80 Alison Riske 3-Jul-90
85 Bethanie Mattek-Sands 23-Mar-85

It is also interesting to note that half of the women are younger than 25 and half are older. Of the players who are 25 years or younger, only Stephens, Keys, and possibly Vandeweghe have the potential to win Grand Slam events after the Williams sisters retire. Of the older players, only Serena Williams is capable of winning a Grand Slam singles title.

Next stop, U.S. Open – with the exception of the few players who will participate in the Olympics. Look for another strong performance by the American women at Flushing Meadows.

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