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Chasing The American Dream

July 12, 2006

WHAT’S WRONG WITH AMERICAN TENNIS? RIDDLE SOLVED

I submitted this to the NY Times. Let's see if I finally get published...

Another fortnight from Wimbledon has come and gone. Aside from the actual championship matches, the hot topic of conversation was American Tennis. Or more specifically, what’s wrong with American Tennis. It was well documented this week that for the first time since 1911, there were no Americans, men or women, in the Wimbledon singles quarterfinals. The last remaining American was a virtual unknown from Washington D.C. named Shenay Perry. The very thought that she had the sole responsibility of carrying on The Streak made her game virtually disappear in a 6-2 6-0 loss to Elena Dementieva. Another trendy stat of note is that the last time there were no Americans in the quarterfinals of any grand slam event was the 1976 Australian Open. And our best, The Williams sisters and Andy Roddick appear to be on the decline.

I watched and listened to the experts’ theories from the rise of Russian women to the lack of heart and hustle of the men. John McEnroe was quoted as saying it was due to a lack of, “opportunity and availability and affordability." But I think all the experts have missed the obvious answer to the riddle. Let’s look at some history first before the mystery is solved. From 1994-1999, Pete Sampras was moping around the courts wracking up grand slam title after title. The more flamboyant Andre Agassi collected the career grand slam albeit oft-injured and sporadically during that time period. On the women’s side, there was an occasional Lindsey Davenport sighting. Steffi, Monica, and Martina Hingis were dominating the scene just prior to the Williams sisters’ breakthrough. So American tennis, on its own, was fairly boring and nothing really for American youngsters to get excited about. Aaah, but there WAS something brewing on the California coast.

Only it wasn’t tennis. Of all things, it was golf! A young 18-year-old kid named Eldrick Woods was just making a name for himself outside of the golf world. Oh sure, golf pundits knew the magic of this kid, but now word was getting out to the non-golf community. In 1994, he won his first of three straight U.S. Amateur titles. And as we all know, he turned pro in late 1996, won the Masters in 1997, and the rest is history. Tiger took the slow, stodgy, rich country club, Caucasian-dominated sport and turned it into THE cool sport of the new millennium. He did it with flair, panache, magic, and mental and physical brilliance. Being part African-American and part Thai revolutionized the sport for minorities. Kids watched and were amazed. Parents watched and suddenly wanted their kids to grow up like Tiger Woods. And so kids put down their tennis rackets and picked up their golf clubs. Golf was in; tennis was out.

And Tigermania grew and grew. In 2000, there was the Tiger Slam. He held all four majors. Tiger was, and is, IT. Except for a revitalized women’s tennis game thanks to the Williams sisters, I really believe the Tiger Factor is largely responsible for the lack of tennis development during the past ten years. Parents couldn’t wait to get a golf club in their kids’ hands. They all wanted the Next Tiger. Myself included. Look at women’s golf now. There are so many up-and-coming U.S. teenage stars like Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, and a slew of girls named Brittany who have all been very close to winning tournaments. Creamer had a break-out year last year wining over $1.5 million. The LPGA tour looks a lot different today than it did five years ago. The Natalie Gulbis look is in vogue now. And Michelle Wie is pulling a Tiger Woods. The 16-year-old is perhaps getting more press and worldwide coverage than did Tiger at that age. Yet another blow for tennis.

It’s all about golf, ladies and gentlemen. THAT is what’s wrong with American tennis. Tiger transcended his sport and sports in general. And tennis died a slow death and has yet to recover.

3 Comments:

  • Interesting thoughts....Wall St Journal just did a weekend article on tennis and how to make it more inviting to young players. They mentioned special camps/centers for hot prospects but also ways to get the young kids involved and interested (without burnout).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:55 PM, July 12, 2006  

  • Hmm, not really sure I agree with the thought, but I can see how you arrived at it. I don't see the same people following golf that follow tennis, but I think the US Open Series is helping tennis and other more publicized television events will help the sport. Although, that said, I like the sport as it is, I like the courts of Wimbledon, with all the tradition and I like the roar of New York for the Open. I'd hate to see it get too mainstream.

    By Blogger Amy, at 2:59 PM, July 13, 2006  

  • Kinko what Amy said.

    By Blogger catsteevens, at 4:15 PM, July 13, 2006  

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