I've just returned from my annual holiday mountain biking trek to Tucson, Ariz. It's not easy for me to escape from tennis responsibilities while in Tucson because the 12's and 14's Winter Super Nationals are here, and this year, five of my players competed. While watching a student one afternoon in the Boys 14's, I couldn't help but notice that a new benchmark for success amongst the best players was clearly evident. The player's I watched were bigger, stronger, faster, quicker and more flexible than past competitors. The sport is evolving.
While there are many notable exceptions to the generalities below, they do represent tennis macro trends.
Thirty years ago, foot speed was the paramount skill for junior success.
Twenty years ago, the defining attribute amongst the top juniors was versatility and completeness of racket skills.
Ten years ago, power was king.
Today, superior athleticism sets many of the top junior players apart.
Traditionally, racket skills have been great equalizers to compensate for athletic deficiencies, but those days are nearing an end.
Today, tennis at the highest men's professional level is as athletically intensive as football, basketball and soccer. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are three of the world's best athletes, in any sport. The best women's players are likely the world's premier women's athletes. Athleticism in junior tennis is emulating the professional game.
If you dream of playing The 2020 Championships at Wimbledon, plan on booking an extra ticket for your personal trainer.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.