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.


American Men Have Lackluster Showing at French Open

USTA General Manager of Player Development Martin Blackman has been on the job for about a year and the results of the French Open show that not much has changed in the win column for the American men.

The women and girls have had solid performances in the Grand Slams and the men and boys have not. When hired a year ago, Blackman made a realistic plea for fans to be patient. It particular he told fans not to set their expectations too high for the young American boys because they were young, they didn’t need additional pressure, and the transition from junior play to the pro tour was tougher than most people realize.

At the 2016 French Open there were 10 American men entered. First round losers included:
• Brian Baker
• Taylor Fritz
• Rajeev Ram
• Denis Kudla
• Steve Johnson
• Sam Querrey
• Donald Young

Bjorn Fratangelo lost in the second round and ended the tournament 1-1.
Jack Sock bowed out in the third round and finished the tourney 2-1.
John Isner lost in the 4th round and held his seed.

The performance of the American men at the 2016 French Open showed they are some of the top players in the world, but they are no match for the world’s elite players. Time will tell if the younger players such as Taylor Fritz can hang with the best in the world.

Overall the men were 6-10.

The performance of the 9 American boys was equally as dismal. First round losers were:
• Sam Riffice
• John McNally
• Vasil Kirkov
• Ulises Blanch
• Liam Caruana
• Jeffrey John Wolf.

Ulises Blanch finished the tournament 1-1 with a loss in the second round.

Both Nathan Ponwith and Gianni Ross posted 2-1 record, but they bowed out in the third round.

Overall, the American boys were 5-9.

The American men and boys have often struggled on the clay at the French Open.
Hopefully the grass courts at Wimbledon will be more to their suiting.

American Tennis Without the Williams Sisters

Since they first hit the tour, Venus and Serena Williams have been the face of women’s tennis in the U.S. The following tables show the gap between the Williams sisters in age, ranking, and earnings.

Seventeen American women were entered in the first Grand Slam of the year, the 2016 Australian Open. The following table shows the age, earnings, and rank of the first-round women losers who represented the U.S. in Melbourne.

Name Age Career Earnings February 9 Ranking
Alison Riske 26 $1.7 million 92nd
Christina McHale 24 $2.2 million 62nd
Sloane Stephens 22 $3.7 million 25th
Anna Tatishvili 26 $1.4 million 116th
Coco Vandeweghe 24 $2.2 million 46th
Samantha Crawford 20 $277,000 110th
Victoria Duval 20 $290,000 587th
Venus Williams 35 $32.6 million 12th
Bethanie Mattek-Sands 30 $4.5 million 77th

The second and third round losers are listed in the table below.

Name Age Career Earnings February 9 Ranking
Irina Falconi 25 $1.2 million 75th
Nicole Gibbs 23 $730 105th
Vania King 27 $3.6 million 227th
Varvara Lepchenko 29 $3.3 million 49th
Madison Brengle 25 $1.2 million 57th
Lauren Davis 22 $1.4 million 99th

The following table lists the same information finalist Serena Williams and Madison Keys, who reached the round of 16.

Name Age Career Earnings February 9 Ranking
Madison Keys 21 $3.1 million 24th
Serena Williams 34 $75.4 million 1st

Despite being the oldest American players, the Williams sisters still continue to dominate in the rankings. It is unlikely the Americans who are 24 or older will make it into the top ten – they are able to compete internationally, but they are not elite players.

Given the track record of the USTA Player Development program, it is not a comforting thought to envision what American tennis will look like without the Williams sisters.

Women’s Australian Open 2016-Hats off to Serena

For the second consecutive Grand Slam Serena Williams was denied in the finals. This time Angelique Kerber delivered the knockout punch in a magnificent three-set match at the Australian Open. Williams loss begs the question, “Who will be the face of American tennis (not just women’s tennis) when Serena retires?”

Seventeen American women were entered in the first Grand Slam of 2016. Only eight advanced to the second round. The nine first-round losers included Alison Riske, Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens, Anna Tatishvili, Coco Vandeweghe, Samantha Crawford, Victoria Duval, Venus Williams, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

The three second-round losers included Irina Falconi, Nicole Gibbs, and Vania King. They were all 1-1.

Another three Americans lost in the third round including Varvara Lepchenko, Madison Brengle, and Lauren Davis. Each of these players had 2-1 records.

Madison Keys held her #15 seed by losing in the round of 16. She was 3-1 overall.

On a day-to-day basis, Williams continues to be untouchable, even though she won 6 of 7 matches and had to settle for the second place trophy.

So which of the American women is going to fill Serena’s shoes when she retires?

Martin Blackman began to address that question ten months when he was picked to head USTA player development. During his short tenure he has indicated that we need to produce more quality tennis players as a way of producing a few elite players.

While ten months isn’t time enough to turn a ship that sunk many months ago, the presence of the American juniors at the 2016 Open was abysmal. Maria Mataes was the lone competitor and was trounced 6-1, 6-1 in the first round of the Girls Junior event. Clearly the U.S. has a ways to go before there is quantity and quality.

While all of the American women athletes are outstanding players, only Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens have demonstrated they may have the potential to become  elite players. In the case of Stephens, her stock has fallen sharply over the past year.

Americans can only hope that Serena finds the fountain of youth. While there is reason to feel good about what if being said by Blackman and those in the USTA Player Development program, the future of American men’s and women’s professional tennis remains bleak.

Hats off to Serena Williams for another great performance!

American Men at U.S. Open – When Will Insanity End?

“Insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results.” – attributed to Albert Einstein.

Unfortunately, this saying applies to the USTA’s player development program, particularly on the men’s side.

Sixteen American men were entered in the 2015 U.S. Open. The group included a handful of up-and-coming juniors; however, the majority were the same American men who are excellent players who have had lackluster performances in the Grand Slams.

Those who exited the tournament after first round losses included:
• Tommy Paul
• Tim Smyczek
• Steve Johnson
• Ryan Shane
• Frances Tiafoe
• Ryan Harrison
• Bjorn Fratangelo
• Denis Kudla
• Sam Querrey
• Jared Donaldson

Second round losers included:
• Mardy Fish
• Jack Sock
• Rajeev Ram
• Austin Krajicek.

After two rounds only Donald Young and John Isner remained.

As a junior Donald Young was billed as the next Arthur Ashe. Unfortunately, he has never lived up to that billing, typically losing in the first round of most Grand Slams. This was his best showing in a Grand Slam since 2011. Young’s singles record at the U.S. Open has been 9-11.

Since 2010 John Isner has been a consistent performer, usually winning two or three matches before bowing out. Isner’s previous best at the U.S. Open came in 2011 when he reached the quarterfinals. Isner’s career record at the U.S. Open has been 21-9.

Young and Isner won their third round matches, but lost in the fourth round to Wawrinka and Federer, respectively.

To put things in perspective, Roger Federer has been 85-10 at the 2015 U.S. Open, prior to this year’s event.

Overall, the 16 American men won 10 matches and lost 16 at this year’s event.Insanity USTA Player Development

On a positive note, the American juniors have dominated play in the U.S. Juniors Open; however, the new general manager of USTA Player Development, Martin Blackman, has been quick to temper expectations for the juniors.

The bottom line … It is tough to develop strong juniors. It is even more difficult to train strong juniors who can make the transition to the professional game and compete and win Grand Slam events.

We’ll see if the latest change by the USTA puts an end to the insanity known as USTA Player Development.

American Men Out in First Week of Australian Open

Week one of the 2015 Australian Open has come and gone – and so have all of the American men.

Sad to say, their performance supported the comments made by Pete Sampras at a recent IPTL press conference. He stated that he doesn’t see any American men on the horizon who are capable of breaking into the top ten. Sampras was asked to comment on the reasons for the demise of the American me. He was diplomatic and mentioned there were a lot of reasons.

Many in the industry would say the crux of the problem is the inept USTA Player Development program. Without any star American men, young boys don’t aspire to be tennis players, much as they did when Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were at the top of their games.

In addition, some feel that American kids have too many options. The sport has enjoyed growth around the globe and young players from other countries are motivated than you Americans.

This year there were only 7 men in the Australian Open, compared to 12 last year. Fortunately Tim Smyczek and Michael Russell qualified, otherwise there would have only been five Americans.

John Isner is the constant for the American men. He was seeded in 19th and he held his seed. He won two matches prior to bowing out in the round of 32. Steve Johnson was also 2-1.

Denis Kudia, Sam Querrey, and Michael Russell were first round losers.

Donald Young and Tim Smyczek both won a match before losing in the second round. To Smyczek’s credit, he took Rafael Nadal to five sets before bowing out.

Overall the men won six matches and lost seven.

The Grand Slams are much more fun to follow when there are American men playing during the second week of the tournament!

Chicago Cubs, ’69 Mets, USTA Player Development

What do the Chicago Cubs, 1969 New York Mets, and USTA Player Development have in common? They are the laughing stock of professional sports.

The performance of the American men at Wimbledon was embarrassing. The men won five matches and lost ten. Nobody advanced past the third round.

On the stage of the U.S. Open, the greatest Grand Slam for American players, the performance of the American men was even worse than Wimbledon. They won five matches and lost twelve. Even worse, they lost nine of the matches 3-0, i.e. the American men were not competitive.

First round losers included Marcos Giron, Bradley Klahn, Donald Young, Wayne Odesnik, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Noah Rubin, Ryan Harrison, and Jared Donaldson.

Tim Smyczek was 1-1, winning his first round match before being thumped by Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round.

Both Sam Querrey and John Isner won two matches before bowing out in the third round. Querrey was destroyed by Novak Djokovic while Isner lost in four sets to veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber.

The combined record of the American men at the U.S. Open was 5 and 12.

The American men are excellent players; however, none of them are elite players and they never will be. It is clear the player development programs of other countries have aspirations for greatness that far exceed those of the USTA Player Development program.

At best, the USTA Player Development program has developed sparring partners for the world’s elite players. Hopefully, the leadership of the USTA has taken notice and will make changes. The U.S. Open would be a lot more fun to watch, if American players were strong enough to compete in the second week of the tournament.

USTA Player Development Not Producing Elite Players

The USTA Player Development program has never been effective, but in 2014 it continues to reach new lows. Prior to the U.S. Open there are only two men ranked in the top 50  and 6 men ranked in the top 100.

Going into the 2014 U.S. Open there are 27 countries with men ranked in the top 50 according to the ATP rankings. There are three countries with more than two ranked men:

  • Spain – 10 players
  • France – 6 players
  • Czechoslovakia 3 players.

The following countries each have two players ranked in the top 50:

  • Switzerland – 3rd and 4th
  • Argentina – 13th and 26th
  • Canada – 6th and 46th
  • Croatia – 27th and 30th
  • Germany – 25th and 35th
  • USA – 15th and 47th
  • Italy – 17th and 49th

John Isner and Donald Young are the top ranked Americans.

The following countries each have one player ranked in the top 50:

  • Serbia – 1st
  • Bulgaria – 8th
  • Great Britain – 9th
  • Japan – 11th
  • Latvia – 12th
  • Rhodesia/South Africa – 20th
  • Ukraine – 22nd
  • Russia – 23rd
  • Columbia – 32nd
  • Taipei/Taiwan – 34th
  • Portugal – 38th
  • Uruguay – 40th
  • Australia – 41st
  • Poland – 43rd
  • Uzbekistan 44th
  • Austria – 45th
  • Kazakhstan – 50th

Only six American men are ranked in the top 100. In addition to Isner and Querrey, the other top 100 Americans are:

  • Steve Johnson – 51st
  • Jack Sock – 55th
  • Sam Querrey – 57th
  • Tim Smyzcek – 90th

Thanks to the USTA Player Development Program, the state of American professional tennis has never been worse.

USTA Player Development Program – Quantity not Quality

As the U.S. Open approaches, the USTA press corps will be out in force to brag about the great crop of young American women produced by the USTA Player Development program.

Unfortunately for the Americans and the USTA, other countries are producing players who can actually win in the Grand Slams. To date, the USTA Player Development program has produced a contingency of players who will be eliminated by the third round. Quantity will be the mantra for the young American women in the 2014 U.S. Open, not quality.

The August 18th WTA rankings show the USA is at the top of the leader board for the greatest number of players in the top 50. There are 22 countries with players ranked in the top 50:

  • USA – 8
  • Czech Republic – 5
  • Italy – 4
  • Russia – 4
  • China – 3
  • Germany – 3
  • Serbia -3

The following countries each have two players ranked in the top 50:

  • Australia
  • France
  • Kazakhstan
  • Slovakia
  • Spain

The following countries each have one player ranked in the top 50:

  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Japan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom

A closer look at the rankings shows that Serena Williams is at the top of the list. Her sister Venus is ranked 20th. Sloane Stephens is ranked 22nd and Madison Keys is 28th.

The remaining four American women are far from being world-beaters. They are ranked between 39th and 48th and include Coco Vandeweghe, Christina McHale, Alison Riske, and Lauren Davis.

The Americans other than the Williams sisters are 19 to 24 years old. Contemporaries of this group include Halep, Kvitova, Bouchard, Wozniacki, Krunic, Cornet, and Bencic. Elite players who are slightly older include Radwanska, Cibulkova, and Azarenka. None of the young Americans have demonstrated the ability to compete against these players with success.

Most of the top 50 American women are young. Time will tell if they will mature and improve or if they continue to be cannon fodder for the world’s elite players.


USTA Player Development MIA at Wimbledon

There was something different about the results for the men’s and women’s draw at Wimbledon 2014 – No American advanced past the third round in the singles. In fact, only one American man and five women made it to the third round.

Sadly, the embarrassing showing of the Americans made their abysmal showing at the French Open look somewhat respectable. Even worse, Wimbledon is a tournament where the Americans usually play well.

Clearly, the results of the men and women accentuate the fact that the USTA Player Development has been MIA for a number of years. The program may be taking credit for developing players, but it is not producing elite players at the international level.

On the men’s side, John Isner was the only player to have a winning record. He exited in the third round.

Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, and Denis Kudla all lost in the second round after winning a match. Bradley Klahn, Steve Johnson, AlexKuznetsov, Ryan Harrison, Donald Young, and Michael Russell were all first round losers.

The men won 5 matches and lost 10. In other words, if the American men had combined all of their wins and allocated them to one player, they would have lost in the semifinals.

The American men are excellent players; however, with the exception of Isner and Querry, they are ranked closer to 100 than number 1. The player development programs of other countries appear to have aspirations for greatness that exceed those of the USTA Player Development program.

Memo #1 to USTA Player Development.
Topic: There were no American men players in the round of 16.

The following countries had multiple players in the round of 16:
• Spain – 3
• France – 2
• Switzerland – 2
The following countries had one player in the 16s: Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Serbia, and South Africa. The player from Serbia won the tournament.

There were 13 Americans in the women’s draw. Combined, they won 13 matches and lost 13.

The first round losers included: Anna Tatishvili, Christina McHale, Taylor Townsend, Sloane Stephens, and Vania King. They were joined on the sidelines by second round losers Victoria Duval, Coco Vandeweghe, and Varvara Lepchenko.

The following American women won two matches before exiting the tournament: Serena Williams, Alison Riske, Madison Keys, Venus Williams, and Lauren Davis. Game over for the women!

The recent American youngsters to appear on the big stage are finding that life is tougher than it looks like from the sidelines.

Memo #2 to USTA Player Development.
Topic: There were no American women players in the round of 16.

The following countries had multiple playing in the Round of 16:
• Czechoslovakia – 4
• Germany -2
• Russia – 2
• Kazakhstan – 2
The following countries had one player in the 16s: Canada, China, Denmark, France, Poland, and Romania. One of the players from Czechoslovakia was the winner.

Wimbledon 2014 confirmed what was expected last summer. At that time it appeared there were either an inordinate number of upsets or a changing of the guard. The recent results confirmed the latter has occurred.  Halep, Bouchard, Kvitova, and the host of other young players have begun to take over the top spots in the women’s game.

Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer, still control the men’s sport, but the youngsters are rattling their sabers that change is on the horizon in the not too distant future.

Hopefully the leaders of the USTA and the USTA Player Development Program were watching. Wimbledon is much more fun to watch when Americans are playing in the finals!