Friday, July 4, 2014

Oh Canada, Indeed


Wimbledon 2006/ all photos by author
Two North Americans, one in the Ladies' Singles and one in the Gentlemen's, made the semi-finals at Wimbledon and still have a chance to win their respective Championship. Neither one of them is an American.

We speak, of course, of Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. The latter will now play in the final Saturday after her straight set semi-final win over Simona Halep of Romania.

How is it that two Swiss men can make Wimbledon's quarter-finals, but no American. A Bulgarian player is in the semis. For all the vaunted press about the resurgence of American women players not named Williams, not one made it into the quarters. Four Czech women made the quarters. Four.

Okay, we know that Wimbledon is not the Olympics or World Cup; these are professional tennis players representing themselves, their coaches, agents, sponsors, families, etcetera. Still, it's difficult to have fortnightly patriotic amnesia, which is becoming a regular affliction for fans even of our own US Open.

This would all be beside the point, except that the United States Tennis Association – born United States Lawn Tennis Association until the roots of the game became an embarrassment – has been spending enormous sums of money on both women's and men's junior programs, especially inner city programs, in order to produce more champions. Much of the revenue from the Open not used to support the USTA operating staff and bureaucracy, is used for programs to develop future champions, including the popular Under Ten graduated teaching method.

Results to date: love all around*.

In May, the USTA announced that it will build the "new home of American tennis" in Lake Nona, FL, near Orlando, with more than 100 courts. At a cost of  $60 million.


Well, one reason is that they have the money, which they get from the TV contracts, corporate suites, and $12 US Open beers. But the open is a kind of chimera. Walking the grounds in the early rounds, seeing the fan enthusiasm, one might easily believe that tennis is thriving around the country. Not necessarily so.

I play doubles nearly every weekend with a small revolving group of men. Playing next to us each weekend is a group of women. When all of us finish, before noon, we are almost always the only ones who have been playing for fun at a club with 12 superlative Har-Tru courts and a 100 year-old proud tennis tradition. And courts will remain empty throughout the weekend.
Forest Hills Stadium/ WSTC /2013

The club's A and B men's teams are likely to be playing a match or practicing when we leave. The women's teams played during the week. But, those are scheduled events, as are the children's lessons and clinics. There are precious few who are still playing tennis just for the pure joy of it, with their friends. Just because they feel like it. While the USTA plunks its money down in training center roulette, "social" tennis is dying all over the country, the same way that golf is.

Back to the Open.

Arthur Ashe Stadium was built to accommodate more corporate sponsors and their guests in the lower and middle sections of the stadium. The top or "300" sections are good if you want to be present but terrible if you want to be a real spectator; the more affordable seats are useless if you're a real fan.

Many of the attendees at the night sessions, at which only a few matches are scheduled, are there to say they were there the next day at work. Who wants to say they didn't get invited by a client or had their own "corporate"seats at the Open?

And, honestly folks, many of these matches, especially the four-hour men's variety are dreadfully boring. Every player has exactly the same ground strokes. Few players, if any will venture forth to the net, as if it was electrified. I watched a good deal of yesterday's ladies' semi-final at Wimbledon. Neither player hit a single volley near the net in the entire time I was watching. Not one!

Boring. A cuppa Sleepy Time would do as much for you.

Here's another thing. Kids are so programmed to play all kinds of sports these days that it seems as though many lose or never develop a true enjoyment of the sport. The idea of a "pick-up" game seems foreign to them, and why not; their moms and dads have been hounding them to succeed at sports for years, partly as a gateway to college. Once past college or high school, too many throw off that yoke. Free at last!

Listening to Eugenie Bouchard speak after her win was revealing. Sure she's had help from Canada's tennis federation. But, the key was her inner-confidence, her own desire and passion as a player to not just compete at the highest level, but to win, and love every minute of it. As Dr. J said, "Being a professional means doing the things we love to do on the days we don't want to do them." Bouchard left no
Ashe Stadium/BJK Tennis Center
doubt that she hadn't simply been "programmed."

It occurs to one fan who would love to see more Americans winning majors that maybe we're trying to program our elite juniors too much. Where is the inner passion and true love? Passion is hard to plan. Will the real champions succeed at Lake Nona, with their confidence bordering on arrogance, their insistence on doing it a little different, their impatience, their knowing something important internally that not even their coaches and parents can see?

Winners get trained, champions get born.

* Postscript: Yes, two Americans played in the Boys' Singles Final, with Noah Rubin of Long Island, besting his friend and teammate Stefan Koslov. Shades of Roger Federer who won in '98? Maybe. But, I'm from MO on this one; I say "show me" that the Americans have the staying power, maturity, discipline, passion, creativity, etcetera. They can win, but I still say that being a champion takes a lot more. On the other hand: good for you Noah!

No comments: