While watching Wimbledon at the beginning of the summer, the announcers would talk about the bad state of American tennis. During the French Open a few weeks earlier, I heard the same comments several times during the course of the tournament. Come to think of it, I can remember the same comments made periodically over the years while watching many Grand Slam tournaments.
As I have listened to the same rhetoric over the years, I asked myself … “Really, is the state of American tennis that bad?” Come on, let’s be realistic here … nothing is perfect and everything can be scrutinized and improved, but is American tennis really that bad? If this statement is based on Americans winning Grand Slam titles since 1994, three American males and three American women have won the U.S. Open title (18 percent of the time, an American player wins). Wimbledon had three American women and one American male win the title (18 percent of the time, an American woman won and that one American male who won all of those Wimbledon Titles was Pete Sampras).
So, American tennis is just awful … isn’t it? I guess the USTA thinks an American should win every year. Do I really care that much if an American wins a Grand Slam? I am patriotic and want to see an American win all the time, but when they don’t, American tennis does not exactly go into the toilet now does it? Right now, there are two Americans in the top 20 (Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick representing 10 percent of the top 20 of the ATP Tour). I am proud to say that Americans do indeed have great success on the ATP Tour.
Now, here is what I really care about. Tennis in the United States is more accessible than in any other country in the world. We have more tennis courts per person in this country than anywhere else in the world. Tennis can be played for free at most junior high and high schools courts anywhere. Tennis can be played at an endless choice of parks throughout the country. Tennis is accessible at a variety of clubs and facilities with affordable rates almost anywhere. Men and women can easily find games at any park and a network of tennis players can be found at most clubs. Want to take a tennis lesson here in the U.S? No problem, affordable group lessons are available at most clubs. Want some private lessons? Great instructors can easily be found at most facilities.
I lived in Switzerland approximately 20 years ago. During that period of living abroad, I wanted to play tennis, but found that there were no public tennis courts at any park. You had to “join” a club, and in many cases, also had monthly dues or an extra supplement just to play. Schools had lovely soccer fields, but no tennis courts. You could find an opponent to play in a match if you looked hard enough, but it was no where near the level of accessibility as it is here in the U.S. This illustration is pretty representative of tennis in Europe and in Asia. The further east you went in Europe, the less opportunity there was.
So the state of American tennis means something else to me. You can play anywhere at anytime in the United States. If the USTA wants a U.S. citizen to win the major titles, I will leave it to them to figure that out. However, for the average American club player, go play tennis and have fun, there are plenty of courts available.
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail email@example.com.