Shocked? Yes, sort of because we had heard that USTA Player Development Director Patrick McEnroe signed another contract extension to remain in his current post. Tennis pros from all over the country were upset because USA men’s tennis has fallen off the grid, and there is little hope around the corner for an American male to win a Grand Slam in the near future.
Now, back to Mr. McEnroe. Whether it is Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, pros are bitter that Patrick was appointed Davis Cup Coach and Player Development Director because he is not qualified to fill either role. To many observers, he has prospered because of his older brother’s influence — John McEnroe. Let’s trace his career path. First, he followed John to Stanford University, trailed him in the broadcast booth and again followed him as the men’s Davis Cup Coach. Hmm.
Patrick’s television duties are extensive and have clearly interfered with his USTA Player Development position. It is alleged that the USTA pays him $1.4 million for his part-time gig, and with no outstanding results, it was time to go. So, last week at the conclusion of the US Open in New York, he resigned his PD job. He clearly made the correct decision, and I would venture to guess that he is significantly relieved. Just imagine being criticized by the majority of your peers on all of the social media outlets but also being lambasted by many tennis print publications. Heck, is our old Cornhusker star Andy Roddick the last American to win the US Open in 2003? Sad to say but yes, Andy is the last American male to win our nation’s biggest Grand Slam tennis event.
USA tennis fans have suffered quite a drought, and the pressure was on Patrick and his team to reverse the trend and start producing new champions. With so much riding on this crucial task, I can’t fathom how he could accept this job as a part-time endeavor? We are now hearing that his successor will have to move to the brand new USTA training center in Orlando and be prepared to work full time. Wow, what a revelation!
Now, it is vital for the USTA to learn from past mistakes and prepare to steer a new course. The best suggestion I have heard is for the USTA to put together a huge focus group which would include a wide variety of tennis enthusiasts. This new panel would include the Bryan twins; their father Wayne, who was the architect of their tennis games and still is closely connected to the sport; and numerous other leaders in the game. Instead of tapping into the same recycled group of ex-players, this new “super” group would include coaches and parents of successful junior players.
Certainly, leaders like Billie Jean King and current Davis Cup Coach Jim Courier would be consulted, but the emphasis wouldbe to listen to a larger base of knowledgeable tennis people. For the better part of the last three decades, the USTA has only concentrated on former ATP/WTA stars and has ignored the pros who have consistently developed juniors from their early development.
The USPTA and USPTR boast more than 15,000 certified professionals; certainly there are enough well-qualified people who can offer salient ideas that can aid the new player development director down the road in Orlando. It is time for USA tennis to step up and make a splash in the world tennis scene, but we must be willing to make drastic changes.
First and most importantly, the USTA must embrace the coaches who have molded their young star from the beginning. Ironically, in the past, we have asked this rising youngster to leave home, abandon their primary coach and start anew. This old theory must be eliminated, and we must embrace and nurture the coach who has been there from the start.
Suggestion No. 2, allow the up-and-coming junior player to stay at their home address and only require them to visit the Orlando training site on a quarterly basis. Idea three, make sure to adequately fund the junior’s family for coaching and traveling expenses in lieu of moving them to Central Florida.
Finally, hire teaching pros, not former tour players, to help build the new brand. It is imperative to utilize the true professionals who have been in the trenches growing the games of beginners and advanced beginners and have the tools to ignite more progress. It is important to point out that some of the future stars still need technique improvement; certified pros have the expertise to tweak a grip change or a style flaw. Sure, the ATP or WTA tour player can offer outstanding motivational tips, but there are just too many other factors that compliment one’s tennis game.
Let’s look to a whole new batch of talent to rescue USA men’s tennis. Once we are able to produce another champion, it is quite conceivable that we will see a rise in popularity in this country. The time is now, and we must be willing to make bold steps to achieve our lofty goals.
A big shout out to my tennis buddy Tye Myers of Naples, who has been tapped as the next head tennis professional at Hideaway Beach on Marco. Not only is he a great guy, but he is immensely talented and dedicated to his craft. He has assembled an outstanding staff, and he is excited about the coming season. Good luck, Tye.
Since 2000, Doug Browne was the Collier County Pro of the Year three times, and has been a USPTA pro in the area for 28 years. Doug was also honored in the International Hall of Fame (Newport, Rhode Island) as Tennis Director during the 2010 summer season. Doug has been writing about tennis for the last 19 years.