Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three ways the United States can get out of its tennis slump

For the first time ever, no American man or woman is ranked in the top 10 of the world rankings. Aside from the Williams sisters, the US has been in a tennis funk for the past five years. How can the once-great tennis nation regain its footing on the international scene? Busted Racquet examines the options:

1. Play more on clay. Spain has the most players in the top 100 (14) thanks to the country's dominance on the clay courts. Though players like Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco have all improved on other surfaces throughout the years, guys like Nicolas Almagro and Albert Montanes have carved out solid careers mainly based on their clay proficiency. Contrast that to the U.S. players who actively avoid clay (there were no Americans in the field at the 1000 event in Monte Carlo). There's a self-fulfilling prophecy at play when players such as Andy Roddick and Sam Querrey struggle on clay and then blame it on a lack of familiarity with the surface.

2. Stop trying to identify stars so early. Late bloomers are the rage these days in tennis. Li Na, Francesca Schiavone, Jurgen Melzer and Mardy Fish are a few examples of competitors who played their way into the top 10 after their 26th birthdays. Even players who seem young, like Vera Zvonareva and Robin Soderling, aren't exactly spring chickens (both are 26). This is not the tennis world in which Jennifer Capriati and Boris Becker grew up. Eligibility rules and better training and nutrition have delayed the starts of the careers and extended the end of them. It's not necessary to pluck the 12-year-old prodigy out of obscurity anymore so she can be playing Wimbledon by the time she's in high school. Instead of selecting 12-year-olds to be in an exclusive development program, give them time to raise the level of their game on their own. The USTA sometimes acts like a fisherman blindly casting a net in the ocean. Instead, the governing body of tennis should cast a wider net with better information and see what happens.

3. Don't panic. These things are cyclical. Remember back in 2003 when people were asking whether men's tennis was becoming pass� because of a lack of star power? Then came Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. All it takes is one singular talent to put U.S. tennis back on the map. Maybe it will be a Ryan Harrison or Jack Sock or Coco Vandeweghe or Christina McHale. Maybe it'll be somebody we haven't heard of yet. It's going to happen though. Don't write the obituaries yet.

Jordana Brewster Laetitia Casta Claudette Ortiz Julia Stiles Marisa Miller

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