Let me start out by saying I am very proud to be an American. However, my trip to the 14's clays in Fort Lauderdale left a heck of a lot to be desired. Granted, nobody's perfect and there was one coaching situation I wish I handled differently but between the behavior of the players, officials, tournament desk and parents it was embarrasing that this is "the future" of American tennis. I have played or coached at tons of SuperNationals. The behavior at this tournament was hideous!!
It seemed like EVERY SINGLE court needed a linesman for one reason or other. I was watching a match on a bank of seven courts. Every single court needed a linesman. I am not exaggerating. It didn't even seem like the linecalls were any worse than usual. Any close call was challenged. Cheating back was everywhere. Score changing was everywhere. Whining after every point was everywhere. Sniping back-and-forth between players were everywhere. It seemed like every kid had a chip on their shoulder. I was even watching a match where a kid in a non-confrontational match shouted, "I know the score!" when his opponent announced the score before serving. Psychological bathroom breaks were everywhere, let calls after the point was over was common, you name it and I saw it. Was every age group like this? Is it a 14-year old thing? Is it an American thing?
Also, it seems like every match had a kid who was bent on insulting his opponent. "He shanks every ball!" "He pushes, dont be stupid!" "What a tree!" . It really played into the ugly American stereotype. Someone was described as someone who "doesn't cheat that badly." Uh, either you cheat or you don't.
Now the officials were overmatched. There was about one on-court official for every three courts. But they weren't so hot either. Officials were constantly talking with each other instead of watching matches, missing super tiebreaks at the expense of matches that were just starting and just seemingly "off." One match that I watched had one kid yelling after every point and the other kid 90 seconds in-between every point. There was not an umpire to be seen. I guess they figured, rules may be getting broken but if the players are fine, then let it go. I also saw an umpire shout at a player for not returning a stray ball to another court even though the player tried but didn't know which court to return it to. He yelled so loud at this kid about something so petty, three nearby players started cracking up.
The tournament desk was far from perfect. Matches were consistently delayed an hour or more (and this was before the rain delays.) A student of mine was given an incorrect match time in writing. When it was doublechecked on the computer and pointed out hours later that the computer said a different time, the tournament director didn't so much offer an apology or seem to care other than to say the computer time is the correct time.
One official pointed out that there were more parent grievances in this tournament than any other tournament she worked. Parents got involved in confirming or rejecting line calls.
What the USTA cares more about wasn't so great either. The level of tennis wasn't so impressive. But then again, it is hard to play well when there are line calls on both sides of the net to worry about.
Ricky Becker is director of tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club and independently coaches high-performance juniors year-round at Bethpage State Park and Jericho/Westbury Tennis where he is the junior tournament director. He can be reached by phone at (516) 605-0420, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JuniorTennisConsulting.com.