Tag Archives: USTA Player Development

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.