Chris Evert helped the USTA honor tennis moms by giving a lesson to kids from the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program on top of the Empire State Building on May 13. As part of the 13th annual National Tennis Month, the USTA is honoring tennis moms while conducting festivities nationwide to foster tennis participation.
The association reports that for the first time tennis participation in the US has topped 30 million players. Driving this growth is a 12 percent jump in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. The observation deck of New York’s tallest building was turned into a mini-tennis court so the uptown juniors could rally with and get tips from the 18-time Grand Slam champ and mother of three.
Earlier in the afternoon, Evert and USTA executive director and chief operating officer Gordon A. Smith, hosted a luncheon for tennis writers to promote national tennis month, May, and this year’s emphasis on tennis moms.
Evert said she used to play with her mother every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. She noted that one change since her childhood is that as women have moved into the workforce, there are fewer moms who have time to play with their children.
Evert tackled a range of questions from about 15 sportswriters during a luncheon in midtown New York. .She and Smith noted that the USTA has ramped up its mentoring efforts including such steps as Patrick McEnroe’s recent appointment as USTA director of player development.
“It’s not that the U.S. has fallen behind, necessarily, but that the rest of the world has caught up to us,” she said in response to a question about what the U.S. needs to do to develop future stars.
Evert said that in the seventies, girls who wanted to do sports had fewer choices. They were limited to tennis, golf, swimming and perhaps gymnastics. Now that girls, and boys too, for that matter, have more choices it is vital that tennis makes sure it gets its fair share of the best young athletes.
She pointed to a number or promising juniors who play at her Boca Raton, Fla., training center. “I tell the younger kids, the 10 and 11-year olds, that if they can’t beat me, a 55-year old who doesn’t move well anymore, they’ll never make it on the tour.”
The tennis legend said her kids all play on their high school tennis teams, although they only play the sport three months of the year. She said after frequent trips to the emergency room, she decided it was time to de-emphasize extreme sports like skate-boarding among her children.
Commenting on the state of womens’ pro tennis, Evert said that she has noticed that fewer players take the trouble to analyze their opponents’ games. “Players now seem to feel that if they hit their shots, fine, but they don’t go to the trouble to figure out weaknesses in the other players’ games.”
On the question of which surface is best to rear champs on, Smith said that 80 percent of ATP tour title winners were raised on clay. He noted that is one reason the association is building four clay courts at the National Tennis Center.
But even though the afternoon festivities were focused on moms, Evert managed to give dads their due. Speaking about tennis parents in general, she said most tennis parents don’t conform to the stereotype of the pushy father or mother.
Noting that sometimes the fathers put more pressure on their kids than the moms, she allowed that this was understandable since often they were the ones paying for their kids’ exposure to the game.
Lets hope Tennis Month contributes to the greater good of the game and that more tennis moms and their kids take to the courts this summer.