What happened to American tennis?

AlexM

Rookie
25 years ago the game was dominated by the Americans. Connors, Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, and many more legends. Now the best American you see is Isner... WHAT HAPPENED? please someone knowledgeable explain thank you!
 

Red Rick

Bionic Poster
25 years ago the game was dominated by the Americans. Connors, Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, and many more legends. Now the best American you see is Isner... WHAT HAPPENED? please someone knowledgeable explain thank you!
It's like this thread pops up every week.

I think the youth system/talent recruitment is probably broken. Also they don't grow up on clay in the US.
 
Robotic and lacks flair since at least Sampras (in the men's game especially).
Roddick was a good player but already part of the problem, in my view.
 

BumElbow

Rookie
The best athletes in the USA are drawn to other sports. It seems that most of the best players - both inside and outside the USA - had parents as coaches which is much more cost effective than having to pay. The need for coaching makes tennis an expensive sport for children and teens to learn. And, there is a lot to learn to play well. Also, the equipment is not cheap.
 

GhostOfNKDM

Professional
The best juniors competition is now solidly in Europe.

Whatever works for successful juniors here - pretty much a one-weapon game - doesn’t translate into success against Europeans at the pro level.
 

GhostOfNKDM

Professional
But that was already the case when I was a junior, almost 50 years ago.
We produced slam champions regardless if that is true or not.

The tour as a whole reflects surfaces and game styles that favor Euro-centric competition today than it ever has.

The best American results at the slams in the last two decades have been on faster surfaces.
 

tonylg

Hall of Fame
The tour as a whole reflects surfaces and game styles that favor Euro-centric competition today than it ever has.
Yep. As I said above, if the tour looked like this in the 90s, Sampras would not have been the dominant force he was. Rafter would have been a nobody. Chang would have been the dominant American, followed by Courier and then Agassi.
 

RelentlessAttack

Hall of Fame
Tennis is viewed as a sport for the soft and unathletic here. No one is going to give you props in high school for being the top tennis player, you’ll probably get bullied instead unless you have a certain personality - thus Roddick, Isner, Querrey, Gimelstob etc.

There’s big money in the big team sports and incredible development pipelines starting at like 4 years old. The talent just goes elsewhere
 

RelentlessAttack

Hall of Fame
Yep. As I said above, if the tour looked like this in the 90s, Sampras would not have been the dominant force he was. Rafter would have been a nobody. Chang would have been the dominant American, followed by Courier and then Agassi.
Sampras would have had a Mahut-esque career
 

Bartelby

Bionic Poster
It's probably no accident that one of the better Australian players - de Minaur - learnt his trade in Spain.

As a part of a renewal plan, TA built precisely two clay courts in Brisbane.

The USTA/TA should buy a tennis centre in Spain and run their players through it and as many junior events as possible.
 

Harry_Wild

G.O.A.T.
The American woman tennis is super strong now! The American mens tennis is kind of lackluster still with nobody stepping up in the 18-30 year range. Where is the next Connors, Courier, Sampras, Agassi, Chang, Roddick, etc...?
 
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PETEhammer

Guest
Sampras would have had a Mahut-esque career
no one gives a hoot about Mahut. And the only reason I can come up with for your post is you just wanted to write "Mahut" since you liked the sound of his name in your head which is ironically the reason why I responded
 

onyxrose81

Hall of Fame
The American woman tennis is super strong now! The American mens tennis is kind of lackluster still with nobody stepping up in the 18-30 year range. Where is the next Connors, Courier, Sampras, Agassi, Chang, Roddick, etc...?
American women are still strong because tennis, along with golf, is one of the only sports they can make money playing pro sports.
 
The USTA ruined junior development, coaching, and tournaments with politics and ego. And if you’re a top tier athlete in the US, why would you play a sport where the union is so weak the 50th best player in the world barely breaks even? The 50th best in basketball, baseball, football, soccer, golf, heck even NASCAR, are all multimillionaires. And now with this younger generation you have esport athletes making more than tennis players.In the US it’s all about the money, and tennis doesn’t pay well enough to even rank quite frankly.
 

tonylg

Hall of Fame
Would American tennis have faired better if poly never came along and the surfaces remained fast?
Australian tennis would have, both at pro and lower levels. We had generation of pros teaching an eradicated sport. Now we have a generation of pros (mostly imported) teaching a sport that our country has no historical ties to.

There never used to be enough hours in the day for me to watch the AO, I don't think I looked at a single match in the second week this year. No interest.

That's not just because we had no-one there, because that's the been the case and I've still watched every match. It's the quality (type) of tennis. Take away the quest for 5 million slams and it's just boring.
 
Australian tennis would have, both at pro and lower levels. We had generation of pros teaching an eradicated sport. Now we have a generation of pros (mostly imported) teaching a sport that our country has no historical ties to.

There never used to be enough hours in the day for me to watch the AO, I don't think I looked at a single match in the second week this year. No interest.

That's not just because we had no-one there, because that's the been the case and I've still watched every match. It's the quality (type) of tennis. Take away the quest for 5 million slams and it's just boring.
As much as the early 2000’s era gets criticized, poly strings, the old school balls, and fast courts were an electrifying combo. They also didn’t cater as much to defensive baseliners and there was much greater parity. Bring it back!
 

tonylg

Hall of Fame
As much as the early 2000’s era gets criticized, poly strings, the old school balls, and fast courts were an electrifying combo. They also didn’t cater as much to defensive baseliners and there was much greater parity. Bring it back!
I think that was just a transition period. Balls weren't as slow, most courts were slow (just not as slow as now) and not all players had converted to poly (none had grown up with it). You can't stay in transition forever.

Under the stewardship of the ITF, the character of the game was preversed by preventing undue spin (that was actually written into the rules). The ATP threw that all out and just wanted longer and longer rallies everywhere.

The result is that the rallies aren't actually that much longer (check the stats, they aren't). They are just completely one dimensional baseline bot tennis. If you like that to the exclusion of every other style, you're a pig in mud. If you like all court tennis or even just variety, tennis is dead.
 

Robert F

Professional
I love great baseline play and bashing. Guys like Lendl and Agassi pulled me to the sport no McEnroe or Sampras. I also think in the days of yesteryear, everyone really appreciated long rallies. "Wow Connors and Wilander hit 30 shots impressive." Couple that with a lot of people--pros/juniors and rec players being trained to hit for long rallies. But, despite the love of long rallies and the way many people trained, they weren't very common on grass and hard courts. So when they occurred they were appreciated. Look at some of the clay matches of the past and they were filled with long rallies and at the time clay tennis wasn't appreciated as much as hard court and grass because it can be boring to watch two guys loop (relative to the pros) the ball back and forth.

My guess and only a guess, is ATP figured long rallies always get applause, if you get more long rallies it must be better tennis and more people will watch. This coupled with no one wants to see a match determined only by serving aces gave them the great idea to slow things down and get more rallies. I think the intention was good, but the result backfired. We saw S and V become a rare oddity, all court tennis is tougher to play and most just bash from the baseline. It's probably my favorite way to play, but if that is all you do all day it becomes boring without the counterbalance of other styles.

I'm amazed the ATP hasn't figured out a way to get the pros hit more tweeners since fans in the stands wants to see one. But, we'd cringe even more if they became commonplace.

I'm a big fan of speeding up the courts and somehow restricting racquet tech. My poly addiction makes it hard to say good bye to it even on the professional level.
 
I think that was just a transition period. Balls weren't as slow, most courts were slow (just not as slow as now) and not all players had converted to poly (none had grown up with it). You can't stay in transition forever.

Under the stewardship of the ITF, the character of the game was preversed by preventing undue spin (that was actually written into the rules). The ATP threw that all out and just wanted longer and longer rallies everywhere.

The result is that the rallies aren't actually that much longer (check the stats, they aren't). They are just completely one dimensional baseline bot tennis. If you like that to the exclusion of every other style, you're a pig in mud. If you like all court tennis or even just variety, tennis is dead.
Yeah, the majority of rallies at all levels has stayed at 0-3 shots. I think the difference is that it used to be that the players had a more aggressive shot selection since the balls and courts favored attacking tennis. I remember watching the diversity of style with guys like Fernando Gonzalez, James Blake, Davydenko, Roddick, Safin, Hewitt, Nalbandian, et al. Every player had a different play style and game plan, as opposed to today where two guys with identical play styles and tactics in identical Nike outfits go at it. It’s hard to even see who’s who! Parity and diversity have largely been replaced with a cardio contest.
 

merwy

G.O.A.T.
It's just a feeling but it seems that Americans don't root that hard for American players anymore? You don't hear many Americans cheering about Tiafoe (whom I personally really like), Fritz or Opelka. All the hype is about FAA, Shapo, Sinner et all.

Not sure what's not to like about Tiafoe. He seems like a funny guy, has a solid backhand which you don't often see with US players, is still only 23yo with an all-time high of #29, has an interesting background story, and I personally like the racial diversity he brings to a primarily white-dominated sport.
 

tonylg

Hall of Fame
I was a massive Lendl fan, even when he was still a Czech and the yanks loved to hate him. I had a few of the old Adidas diamond shirts. I liked Agassi, Borg and Connors, even though they were predominantly baseliners. I even liked Muster!

I couldn't be less interested in dedicated slow court players like Bruguera and Berasategui (don't even care how you spell his name) and the likes of Courier, Wilander and Vilas I couldn't barrack for, but enjoyed the contrast. Now there is just no contrast.

So it's not that people like me want to see every player playing like Sampras or Becker (hang on, that WOULD be epic), it's that we just can't stomach the slightly different shades of beige that exists today. As a result, I didn't get my kids into tennis.
 

Gary Duane

G.O.A.T.
25 years ago the game was dominated by the Americans. Connors, Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, and many more legends. Now the best American you see is Isner... WHAT HAPPENED? please someone knowledgeable explain thank you!
Connors was not dominating anything 25 years ago. He was 43 in 1995. Mac was 36, also no longer relevant.
 
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PETEhammer

Guest
There's a lot of reasons but ultimately the game is very, very different from when even Petros and Andre were the leading forces in the game. Everything is more inspired/influenced by the European school and mentality of claycourt tennis, getting one more ball over and outlasting your opponent with greater fitness than the old school approach of aggression that stemmed from a mostly hardcourt mentality dominating the game.

It's not that the game has "evolved" as in "progressed" its merely that it has changed.
 

Gizo

Hall of Fame
As someone not from the US, I do think that tennis as a whole would be far better off if there was a US male player competing for majors, the world no. 1 ranking etc. alongside the success on the women's side. Yes the sport is never going to come close to reaching the same levels of popularity in US that it enjoyed during the Connors, McEnroe, Evert heyday / golden age. But at least there would still be noticeably greater interest, higher TV ratings and greater appeal to sponsors etc. in the largest consumer market in the world.

Even though the decline in popularity of tennis in the US definitely preceded the decline of US men's tennis, it's not surprising that a sport so comprehensively dominated by European players on the men's side isn't appealing in the country.

During the period when Sampras ruled men's tennis in the 90s, there were numerous articles in Sports Illustrated, the NY times etc about how the sport was dying, the US TV ratings for his major finals without Agassi on the other side of the net were typically underwhelming to say the least, and the popularity of the sport in the country while far greater than it is now of course still declined significantly. Sampras, as great player as he was and as much as I personally enjoyed watching him play, was actually damaging to the popularity of tennis in the US, even if inadvertently. However nowadays if a US male player emerged that was able to compete for and win multiple Wimbledon and US Open titles (the 'big 2' with the other 2 majors far less important / significant in the country), that would definitely provide a welcome boost and uptick from the current low base.
 

merwy

G.O.A.T.
Also, to answer the question in the OP:
I don't have in-depth knowledge about the training facilities and organisations involved in US tennis, so I'm basing this purely off what I can tell from watching how those guys play. In my opinion there's too much focus on tactics and not enough focus on technique. Even worse: The focus is too much on tactics but they're completely the wrong tactics. It's all about big serve, big forehand, the ol' 1-2 punch. Well yeah I guess that sounds kinda cool and very American to dominate with big shots like that but it's simply not the winning strategy in today's tennis. All these guys focus on serving big and hitting a big winner. Then they go out on the ATP tour with slow courts and against opponents from other countries that have actually learned how to hit a good rally shot (notably a BACKHAND) and don't know what to do when they actually get caught in a baseline rally. In European facilities (the good ones, not the ones in my country for example) they put a LOT of emphasis on having a proper topspin forehand and backhand technique which is absolutely crucial. They put a lot of emphasis on athleticism, on-court movement. They train on clay so they know to manoeuvre themselves into winning a long, typical grinding-style rally and additionally get to work on their endurance. If you want to succeed on the pro tour, you've got to know how to win in those long rallies and you've got to make sure that ALL OF YOUR SHOTS are absolute top notch. I mean, even looking at a successful pro like Berrettini (yeah I know he's not American), it's ridiculous how he always has to run around his forehand and guard his relatively weak backhand all the time.

Also: I hate the excuse that people give about the best athletes going to other sports. That's such a weak BS excuse. You don't think other countries practice other sports as well? You think tennis is more popular than football in Spain? And the US has a population more than 7x larger than that of Spain. Keep playing those sports only you play, inside your little bubble, and keep telling yourself you're the greatest in the world.
 

weakera

G.O.A.T.
Pretty simple really, why would you, as a promising male athlete in America, pursue tennis where the average top-100 player earns less than $1m per and has to travel globally for 11 months, as opposed say NBA (average yearly salary $7m across 450 players) or MLB (average yearly salary $4m across 800 players) where the earnings potential is much higher and the season is only 6 months?

There is not ANY incentive for top male athletes to pursue tennis in America, period. The earnings potential gap is enormous. Only a few tennis players can even dream of earning $50 or $100 million in a career whereas in the other sports, dozens of $50-$100m plus contracts are handed out yearly.

WOMEN'S tennis remains a big deal in America because there is MORE incentive as a woman to pursue tennis and the WTA in America than the WNBA or some other small potatoes female sports league. A female athlete in America can't make more money almost anywhere else than playing tennis.
 

weakera

G.O.A.T.
Tennis isn’t the highest earning sport for American men. NFL, NBA, Baseball etc have contracts in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Even with sponsorships and everything, players wouldn’t get anywhere near that level of finance.
Exactly this, and the gap is only growing. $200 and $300 million dollar contracts are becoming the norm for the best MLB/NBA/NFL players. Even the big-3 couldn't dream of that kind of career prize money.
 

Gizo

Hall of Fame
Pretty simple really, why would you, as a promising male athlete in America, pursue tennis where the average top-100 player earns less than $1m per and has to travel globally for 11 months, as opposed say NBA (average yearly salary $7m across 450 players) or MLB (average yearly salary $4m across 800 players) where the earnings potential is much higher and the season is only 6 months?

There is not ANY incentive for top male athletes to pursue tennis in America, period. The earnings potential gap is enormous. Only a few tennis players can even dream of earning $50 or $100 million in a career whereas in the other sports, dozens of $50-$100m plus contracts are handed out yearly.

WOMEN'S tennis remains a big deal in America because there is MORE incentive as a woman to pursue tennis and the WTA in America than the WNBA or some other small potatoes female sports league. A female athlete in America can't make more money almost anywhere else than playing tennis.
Agreed.

Based on the minimum salary figures available, I think that every single roster player in the NFL, MLB and NBA (and even in the NHL?) comfortably earns more money gross in a year than the players at the bottom end of the ATP top 100. And becoming an established top 100 player (or top 104 player to be precise) is absolutely crucial for a tennis career to be financially 'worth it', as that guarantees a main draw place at all 4 grand slams each year. And if we were to minus playing expenses (much higher for tennis players of course) and look at net earnings, we'd need to look much higher up the ATP rankings to get to players that make more per year than the bottom earners in those big leagues.

Now in the past, people have said that there was already far more money in the major US / North American sports leagues compared to tennis in previous eras. That's true, but absolutely crucially, that financial gulf has only further widened and by a huge amount over time. The gulf between between what the 100th (or 400th) best paid player in the NFL, MLB, NBA etc. earns per year compared to the 100th best paid male tennis player, is far wider in 2021 than it was in 2001 or 1991.

Connors and Agassi both came from blue-collar backgrounds (certainly for tennis standards). If Connors had been born in the 80s let alone the 90s, would he have been so keen to play tennis with his mom, instead of playing a 'cooler' team sport with his friends? Probably not. If Agassi had been born in the 80s let alone the 90s, his dad said that he would have pushed him towards baseball or golf instead of tennis.

Also even pre-COVID (things will likely only get worse in the future), lower level / challenger level players were financially worse off in 2019 than they were in 2009 or 1999, because the costs associated with establishing a tennis career increased at a much faster rate with inflation than challenger level prize money. So that further decreases the incentive for male athletes to pursue a pro tennis career.
 

Red Rick

Bionic Poster
Also, to answer the question in the OP:
I don't have in-depth knowledge about the training facilities and organisations involved in US tennis, so I'm basing this purely off what I can tell from watching how those guys play. In my opinion there's too much focus on tactics and not enough focus on technique. Even worse: The focus is too much on tactics but they're completely the wrong tactics. It's all about big serve, big forehand, the ol' 1-2 punch. Well yeah I guess that sounds kinda cool and very American to dominate with big shots like that but it's simply not the winning strategy in today's tennis. All these guys focus on serving big and hitting a big winner. Then they go out on the ATP tour with slow courts and against opponents from other countries that have actually learned how to hit a good rally shot (notably a BACKHAND) and don't know what to do when they actually get caught in a baseline rally. In European facilities (the good ones, not the ones in my country for example) they put a LOT of emphasis on having a proper topspin forehand and backhand technique which is absolutely crucial. They put a lot of emphasis on athleticism, on-court movement. They train on clay so they know to manoeuvre themselves into winning a long, typical grinding-style rally and additionally get to work on their endurance. If you want to succeed on the pro tour, you've got to know how to win in those long rallies and you've got to make sure that ALL OF YOUR SHOTS are absolute top notch. I mean, even looking at a successful pro like Berrettini (yeah I know he's not American), it's ridiculous how he always has to run around his forehand and guard his relatively weak backhand all the time.

Also: I hate the excuse that people give about the best athletes going to other sports. That's such a weak BS excuse. You don't think other countries practice other sports as well? You think tennis is more popular than football in Spain? And the US has a population more than 7x larger than that of Spain. Keep playing those sports only you play, inside your little bubble, and keep telling yourself you're the greatest in the world.
Berrettini isn't the example I'd give, my guess is he played a lot on clay as a kid too.

I think the coaching system and talent recruitment is just trash. I'd blame poly strings as well, to the extent that US coaching completely fails to teach the right kind of tennis for poly strings. It's not so much a decline as it's a failure to adapt to the modern game. Of the old US elite players only Agassi would really thrive in the modern age and he'd still do worse cause he's not the greatest athletic talent in the game either.

I don't think comparing population is that great, cause I doubt the amount of people in a competitive junior environment with enough means to make the same hours isn't 7x as big as Spain or something.
 

weakera

G.O.A.T.
Also: I hate the excuse that people give about the best athletes going to other sports. That's such a weak BS excuse. You don't think other countries practice other sports as well? You think tennis is more popular than football in Spain? And the US has a population more than 7x larger than that of Spain. Keep playing those sports only you play, inside your little bubble, and keep telling yourself you're the greatest in the world.
It's not an 'excuse,' it's a fact. Other countries do *not* have three leagues like MLB, NBA and NFL which boast not only infinitely higher earnings potential but a surer pathway to success and about 100x more mainstream attention than tennis. No promising young male athlete in America is playing tennis.

And the proof is in the pudding - the WTA has more top-100 players from the USA than any other country. America still dominates women's tennis because female athletes in America actually play tennis.
 

Thriller

Professional
And the proof is in the pudding - the WTA has more top-100 players from the USA than any other country. America still dominates women's tennis because female athletes in America actually play tennis.
Yes for 2 decades there has been at least one American woman, a global superstar, at the top of the game, showing that it could be done and shining a light for the next generation.
What US kid in his right mind wants to be John Isner or Tennys Sandgren when he grows up?
 

Bartelby

Bionic Poster
Clubs and team sports do a better job of training young talent than tennis associations do. These tend to devolve responsibility to levels lacking in funds to do a good job.
 
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