Pro Tennis is Healthy, Wealthy and Exploding

In 1968, commercial pressures and rumours of discreet excessive payments to amateurs sparked the inauguration of Open Tennis, led by Wimbledon, in which professionals could earn a living from their on-court exploits.

4 September 2012 Michael Long
SHARE THIS ARTICLE

In 1968, commercial pressures and rumours of discreet excessive payments to amateurs sparked the inauguration of Open Tennis, led by Wimbledon, in which professionals could earn a living from their on-court exploits. Since then, prize money has escalated phenomenally, making tennis one of the most lucrative individual sporting professions in the world, with a pot of more than US$200 million per year across both sexes, including the Grand Slams. Commercially, tennis generates millions of dollars, year after year, on a global basis. Other than possibly golf, no other individual sport transcends the continents in the same vein. Meanwhile, player and fan participation continues to explode, especially across Europe and Asia. In the US, tennis participation is also at an all time high, although maybe not quite at the same pace as our European and Asian counterparts. As of today, there are more than 30 million tennis players across the country. This statistic becomes interesting, and perhaps alarming, when compared with a decline in emerging American talent. More so than ever, I am frequently asked my opinion on the state of contemporary US tennis. More pertinently, the question tends to be, “Why are there so few American men and women today in the top ten or 20 players in the ATP and WTA rankings?” The inquiry is certainly a valid one. Look back for a moment: prior to 1968, the Grand Slams and amateur circuits were mostly dominated by Americans, Australians and the occasional European star. In the 70s, the leading pack contained Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Rod Laver and John Newcombe. Then it was Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, and after them the American quartet of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang ruled supreme. But no American male has now won a Grand Slam tournament since Andy Roddick in 2003. Currently there are only two Americans in the top 20 in world rankings – Mardy Fish at nine and Roddick at 12. Likewise no American women are ranked in the top 20 on the WTA Tour. Traditionally, geographical tennis success has been cyclical, so the US should have another star waiting in the wings. But I’m not convinced that’s the case. While I don’t profess to hold all the answers, I think there are a few compelling explanations to our present day US dilemma. $  ‚ ƒ  side of the Atlantic: Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and the more recent upstart, Novak Djokovic. The former phenoms have been        dominating tennis for the last decade, while the latter has incredibly won 48 of his last 49 matches this year, collecting the Australian Open and Wimbledon trophies in due course. Admittedly the Williams sisters have commanded the women’s game over   *           * *_        and ill-timed injuries. Nevertheless, rather than bask in selfdoubt, I should pay homage to Europe’s success and the unprecedented fact that they have produced 30 of the last 31 men’s Grand Slam champions. Across the continent, national associations, such as the French and Spanish, have built outstanding live-in academies for teaching, coaching and some schooling of young European talent. At the time of writing, Spain accounts for 14 of the world’s top 100 players, with France a close second with ten, and America has only eight! The battle to get the best athletes into tennis rather than other sports is greatly enhanced if the next generation has national stars or champions to provide inspiration    /$       of a relatively new European country, Serbia, whose kids can look up with admiration and desire to be the next Ana Ivanovic, Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki or Janko Tipsarevic. For a country of Serbia’s size and resources, this achievement cannot be overstated. No doubt junior players on the courts and probably in the streets of Belgrade are picking up racquets and imitating their heroes. And Serbia is not alone – the Ukraine, Croatia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Belarus and Slovakia all contribute names to the world’s top 100. These players see tennis as an escape route from the poverty and monotony of eastern Europe – as a vehicle to fame, fortune and world travel. Tennis facilitates their trip along the ‚³  € ƒ    / Their determination and discipline sets them apart. Quite simply, they are hungrier than the competition. Fortunately, the outlook is not all bleak. In 2008, the USTA started a programme called Quick Start, featuring half-court tennis, smaller racquets and larger puff balls, with the aim of encouraging participation amongst young beginners. Accordingly, the governing body has pledged to spend US$15 million over the next three years developing the programme and fostering growth of ten-andunder tennis. America needs to compete with baseball, football, basketball and soccer to ensure we don’t consistently lose young talent        As I mentioned, tennis is cyclical. I believe that US tennis is making strides in the right direction and our time will come again. But the tennis world is a much larger, expanding place than it was in 1968, believe me! PRO TENNIS IS HEALTHY, WEALTHY AND EXPLODING THE LAST WORD Donald Dell, group president of Lagardère Unlimited, is one of the most experienced and respected members of the sports industry. His next column will appear in the November edition of SportsPro. 129 2011 09 {filedir_26}SportsProMag_issue36_129.pdf [26377] [sportspro_september_2011] SportsPro September 2011