Commentary: America’s lost tennis generation

By Michelle Ludtka

With Wimbledon wrapping up today, we start by putting our spotlight on tennis in the United States and the lost generation of American players. For argument sake, let’s look specifically at men’s and women’s singles. The 2014 championships at Wimbledon saw 256 players qualify for the round of 64 on both sides. Only ten American men and 13 American women were amongst that group. By the round of 16, none were still playing.

Compare that with Wimbledon a decade ago, Andy Roddick and Serena Williams, both Americans were in the finals. Andy Roddick lost that match to Roger Federer making his win at the 2003 US Open the last single title won by an American man in a grand slam tournament. On the women’s side, the drought hasn’t been as long thanks to the utter dominance by the Williams sisters since they came on the scene at the turn of the century. Between Serena and Venus, the two have 25 grand slam singles titles to their names in the last 14 years.

But besides the sisters, the last American to reach such a feat was Jennifer Capriati, winning the Australian Open in 2002.

So my question for you, what happened to the Pete Sampras, the Andre Agassi’s, the Chris Everts, and Martina Navratilova’s or even before that with the Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors, and Arthur Ashe?

Tennis is a different beast, if you will, than sports like baseball, football, and basketball.

Most current tennis pros didn’t make it through a normal high school, opting out for training academy’s and home school to accommodate the demand of the game.

But after youth competition, opportunities drop off. No other American college sport has more international players than tennis.

According to the BBC, in the top 25 women’s teams in the country about 40 percent of the scholarships in the division go to international players.

In our state alone, Washington State University’s women’s tennis team currently does not have a single American player on it.

While less than half of the University of Washington women’s team is American.

The reason for the foreign athletes, well it comes down to winning. Many collegiate coaches say the use of international players helps the overall program because these student athletes are often older than their American high school counterparts and many have already had unsuccessful professional careers and use college tennis as a second chance.

With less opportunities in college than other sports, many American players are forced to try their hand at a professional career younger, and with the current lack of Americans in the world’s top rankings and tournaments, it’s clear these younger players are turning pro before their game is ready, limiting the life span of their careers.

So what do you think? Is the breakdown of college opportunities for tennis hurting the generation of tennis players? Do athletes need college to develop their games?

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