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The Net Post

Patrick McEnroe on the Future of U.S. Tennis

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Some news was made off the tennis courts at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows this week. Patrick McEnroe announced he's resigning as captain of the United States' Davis Cup team, a position he's held for 10 years. He coached the team to a victory in 2007, after a 12-year drought. McEnroe says he's stepping aside to spend more time in his role as general manager of the United States Tennis Association's player development program.

WNYC's Amy Eddings had a chance to speak with McEnroe about the development of U.S. tennis players. There's a lot of hand-wringing in the tennis world about America's fading dominance in the sport, and the rise of multiple top players from Russia and Spain.

Why doesn't the U.S. appear to have a crop of players to replace Andy Roddick and the Williams sisters?

It's a great question and we could go on for hours about it, but the bottom line is that we can do a better job of identifying young talent. We, in general, can do a better job of schooling them, of coaching them, of mentoring them, of really working them a little bit harder when they're younger. We fell behind a lot of the European countries and even some of the South American countries in developing their best kids.

What are they doing that the U.S. isn't doing?

Well they're getting better athletes in general, because tennis is a bigger sport. But we're pretty happy with how our program's going. We've got a main training facility in Florida.

You mention the Florida facility. You opened a new facility in New York at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Tell me about that and what took so long.

That's the question I was asked for many years when I wasn't in this position, so when I did take the position about a little over two years ago, it was certainly one of the goals to get something that was part of our program up and running here. It just makes to much sense. In the summer, we had about 45 kids, and now in the wintertime we'll go to about half of that, and we'll try to work with their personal coaches, and the people they work with, and you know there's a lot of players in this area that are high-level junior players.  

A lot of players, especially girls, are coached and managed by their parents. You suggest that's part of the problem with the USTA's ability to develop the next crop of players.

Look, for the most part, the parents, I mean they're the driving force behind what their children get involved in, whether it's playing the piano or going to dance class, being a great student.

And there's plenty of pros you can point to and say, look the Williams sisters, Elena Dementieva.

A lot more on the women's side, where the father figure is still around. And they're successful.  

And they did well, so what's to encourage them to break free and maybe get a little USTA coaching and leave the parents behind?

Well, they could both, you know, sometimes you can do both. For instance, we worked many times with coaches that are their main coaches and we supplement them. Melanie Oudin has an excellent coach in Brian de Villiers and a program that she came out of, and, you know, it's a team effort. And you can certainly point to some players that were coached exclusively by their parent and it did go well for awhile, but it ended kind of abruptly, or they stopped playing pretty early. I think the Williamses are a phenomenal example of it working. But Richard Williams, to his credit, had other people help them, let them go off and do their own thing, and they developed their own interests -- and they're sisters, so they have each other to sort of fall back on and practice with. But for the most part, it is a part of our job, in developing any young player, is dealing with their parents and whatever impact. Some of them have really nothing to do with their tennis. I mean, my father thought he could coach me because he'd tell me after I split sets in a junior match, 'Hey, do what you did in the set you won, not the set you lost.' So you know, that was fine by us. That was pretty much all the coaching we needed.


McEnroe is a former professional tennis player, ESPN sportscaster, and author of "Hardcourt Confidential: Tales from 20 Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches," published earlier this year. He'll retain his position as Davis Cup captain through the World Group playoff later this month in Bogota, Columbia.