What happened to American tennis?

SonnyT

Hall of Fame
American tennis education and training is terrible. They still haven't learned in today's tennis, mobility comes first, way before power.

And American sports culture is also to blame. In high school, when the most promising athletes make their career choices, American football and basketball are the two glamour sports, because of crowd sizes, cheerleaders, etc. Tennis doesn't even register on the excitement index.

It's no accident that American women are still a force in tennis. For American girls, tennis and golf are still the two most lucrative sports.
 
I have said it before when this topic comes up, Patrick McEnroe pretty much going into his office and taking a nap during his days of Head of Player Development didn't help.
He also tried to force the small amount of promising players to leave the coaches that had brought them up to that point and come to USTA/McEnroe affiliated academies. The attitude is basically that the next American star will be developed by them or not at all.
 

AlexM

Rookie
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.
You seem to really know the horrific problem with tennis. Why do you still LIVE on ttw then?
 

ibbi

Legend
I would guess part of the problem is probably better facilities and training in places other than the US, part of it probably interest in other sports, and tennis' struggles at grass roots levels, and part of it probably Roger Federer's fault for turning the last promising generation of American men into his own personal collection of whipping boys, thus making tennis far less appealing in general to most boys in the country.

Notice, for example, how American women are doing just fine with their own titan to follow in the footsteps of.
 

steenkash

Hall of Fame
Pistol Pete was the last of the Americans. British tennis players are not doing well themselves, they used to be a dominant force in tennis, and always have one hype player (other than the Scot King Murray)
 

EllieK

Hall of Fame
There hasn’t been a really exciting player from USA in recent years. There has to be some personality, As well as great tennis. Agassi, Roddick, McEnroe, Connors etc probably inspired younger guys to take up the game. Love them or hate them, they were at least interesting to watch. Compare that with the current crop and there is no contest. I’m not planting myself in front of the TV to watch these guys, and looking forward to their matches. The few who do have appealing personality, for example Tiafoe, are just not that good. Without competitive matches by American players, there is just no reason to get behind them. Compare that to European tennis which is full of interesting players and close well fought matches.
 

DMP

Professional
The result is that the rallies aren't actually that much longer (check the stats, they aren't).
At Wimbledon they are, a lot longer.

In 2016/17 I took data from this site

http://www.tennisabstract.com/charting/meta.html

and calculated the percentage distribution of points in slam finals since 1978 (AO,FO,W,USO). I plotted the resulting graphs and smoothed the lines to get trends. I posted them here (GPPD), but the hosting site doesn't show them any more and I can't be bothered posting them again. However anyone can go on the site and do the calculations.

I can however show the results for RG and W, and they clearly show what has been happening. Here are the % shots for 4 different rally lengths in 1980/2000/2017/2019*

1-3 shot rally

W (1980) 72% (2000) 80% (2017) 62% (2019) 58%
RG (1980) 45% (2000) 43% (2017) 44% (2019) 39%

4-6 shot rally

W (1980) 24% (2000) 17% (2017) 27% (2019) 22%
RG (1980) 22% (2000) 27% (2017) 26% (2019) 30%

7-9 shot rally

W (1980) 3% (2000) 2% (2017) 6% (2019) 9%
RG (1980) 13% (2000) 14% (2017) 16% (2019) 11%

10+ shot rally

W (1980) 1% (2000) 1% (2017) 6% (2019)11%
RG (1980) 20% (2000) 16% (2017) 14% (2019) 20%

So the % of short rallies at Wimbledon has significantly declined, while long rallies (7-9, 10+) has dramatically increased. RG has not changed much. The results for USO and AO are similar to W, but not as extreme because they did not start from such an extreme position. I am not showing them here to avoid cluttering the key points.

When you look at the data the key change point is 2000, which is when W decided the audiences did not want 80% of rallies to be 1-3 points and the next year they changed the surface. In fact all four slams have moved over the years to cluster much more closely in the distribution of rally lengths. They are not the same, but they are much more similar than they used to be, certainly in the 70s. The numbers bear out the argument that surfaces are more homogeneous than they used to be.

* the numbers for 1980/200/2017 are the averages from trend lines through the data. The numbers for 2019 are actuals for Nadal-Thiem and Federer-Djokovic.
 
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.
You see this (big serve, big forehand, the ol' 1-2 punch) because that's what wins in junior tennis. Winning gets kids ranking points which improves their ranking and allows them to play in bigger tournaments which gets the attention of colleges and the USTA.

The reasons why American tennis isn't great have all been addressed above. Money and the USTA. There is no money in tennis. As pointed out above, the #50 player in the world barely makes $1M per year.

It costs a fortune to develop a pro player. My son is a 13 year old junior player. It is extremely expensive to get mediocre coaching here. You notice that many American players on tour come from families with tennis backgrounds because that's where they learn the game. I could quit my job and move my family to Florida so he could go to a tennis academy but it seems like the most common outcome of that is the tennis academy rakes in lots of money.

Don't get me started on the USTA. Their player development programs....I mean what player development programs...are terrible. It's a shame because while it is true that most kids gravitate towards the team sports there are still enough kids who do want to play tennis to turn out great players as adults.
 
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.
The Agassi's - two of tennis' ATGs - steered their own son away from tennis and into baseball. He now plays at USC (Univ of Southern California).
 

zvelf

Professional
This idea that American men who would otherwise become consistent top 10 tennis players are instead joining MLB, NBA, and NFL isn't really that likely because to be near the very best in a sport requires very different skill sets. Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras, and Roddick were never going to be able to crack the NBA or the NFL. They'd have to either be much taller or much heavier. They'd also not very likely be drafted into MLB although that would at least be more likely than pro basketball or football. What is true in the U.S. is that tennis is not nearly as appealing as an athletic career to men as it is to women. The ingrained idea is that if you're not into basketball, football, or baseball, then you might as well not be a pro athlete at all. It's not that those sports actively draw great tennis players into them.
 

Start da Game

Hall of Fame
who is an american really? nobody.........they are all basically from europe........pete is greek tennis god, lendl is czech, mcenroe irish, agassi algerian etc. etc........
 

AlexM

Rookie
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.
Well said. But the last bit is slightly questionable.
 

AlexM

Rookie
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.
is there a way to fix this? if so how
 

Miki 1234

Semi-Pro
People caught up , pro tennis is not worth the risk. So less people go there. It first happened in us since people are more money driven.
Its gona happen in europe as well or its happening , and from then on it would be just luck or were the big talent is born and was lucky enougt to be in tennis.
There will alway be enough players to fill slams and that is all it counts.
Other then that tennis is dead.
Less people will chase the points and less will even start playing.
More will play rec tennis, kids will start to play from 12 or later once they fall out of initial sports they chose.
 

Gizo

Hall of Fame
The Agassi's - two of tennis' ATGs - steered their own son away from tennis and into baseball. He now plays at USC (Univ of Southern California).
Yes no surprise that he preferred baseball over tennis. I remember threads about this over years, with some posters 'shocked' about his sporting choices. How can the Agassi's 'let' their son choose pursue another sport instead of tennis they asked? Quite easily.

Also from an earlier stage, how more fun do kids have actually when they pursue tennis seriously and it becomes all-consuming? Playing team sports, with 50% of games at home, not travelling as much, hanging out with team-mates, not having to make anywhere near as many sacrifices etc, sounds like a lot more fun (and I don't like baseball at all !).

As far as individual sports go, I find golf to be incredibly boring and I don't follow it, but I think that the 300th ranked male golf player would earn more during a year than the 100th ranked male tennis player (the 300th ranked male tennis player probably wouldn't break even).
 

ichaseballs

Semi-Pro
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!
Serena has 23 slams. not to mention other american females have won.
let's be clear you are referring to mens then?

Bryan bros were the most dominant doubles pair EVER
ok so just mens singles then?

Agassi won in 2003, which is less than 20 years ago.
Then the big 3 happened. Roddick won in 2003 as well, and made 4 other slam finals, losing to Fed in all of them, last one in 2009.
Since Andy, I don't think there has been a strong American singles player.
 

Devtennis01

Hall of Fame
The US academy system wasn't working. The players get solved pretty quickly. Other countries got richer, got more investment, caught up and even changed how tennis was taught. US tennis didn't really evolve.
 
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