Wayne Bryan vs. USTA

For those of you trying to follow the extensive back-and-forth between Wayne Bryan, father of doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan, and Patrick McEnroe, Head of Player Development for the USTA, I have included links below to all of the communications I have seen to date.  If you know of additional letters and/or emails and/or articles, please post a link to them in the Comments box below.

I would like to point out that there have been some extremely well-though-out comments made to many of the original posts, so please do take the time to read through them as well.

If you are the parent or coach of an American junior tennis player, I think it is imperative that you educate yourself on what’s happening with our governing body and the criticisms which are now being launched against it.  Agree or disagree – that’s up to you.  But, please take the time to get informed!

Original email from Wayne Bryan to a USTA Exec

Tim Mayotte’s reply

Colette Lewis’ response

Wayne Bryan’s reply to Colette Lewis

Patrick McEnroe’s response

Wayne Bryan’s reply to Patrick McEnroe

Brian Parrott’s comments on the matter

Wayne Bryan’s letter to his sons

Exchange between Wayne Bryan & an unnamed high-performance coach

Doubles, Doubles, Toils, & Troubles

When I was a kid playing junior tennis, everyone I knew had a set doubles partner.  You practiced together, you played tournaments together, and, at the end of the year, you had a doubles ranking together.

One of the highlights of my junior tennis “career” was winning the state high school doubles championships as an 8th grader.  My partner and I had played together the entire season and had helped our team get to State.  In the doubles competition, we had beaten girls much older than us to take home the big prize.  I still have that trophy sitting on a shelf above my desk.  I’m still very proud of that accomplishment.

Today, it seems that doubles has become the ignored step-child of junior tennis, the afterthought.  USTA awards only 15% of the ranking points for doubles wins and only counts 3 doubles tournament results in a player’s overall ranking.  It’s a shame!

When my son plays in a tournament that also happens to offer doubles, he usually tries to find a partner so he can play.  Oftentimes, the two boys will play together for the first time in their first-round match.  They won’t have practiced together.  They won’t have taken much time to strategize or figure out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  They pretty much just wing it.  Sometimes it works out great.  Other times, not so much.  In a recent tourney, my son and his partner won the doubles, and they were so excited.  But, just to emphasize how low on the totem pole doubles truly is, their prize was a plastic “medal” on a ribbon NOT the nice trophy that the singles winners received.  Really???

Developing doubles skills not only makes you a better singles player by giving you opportunities to try shots you don’t normally get to try- volleys, smashes, half volleys, lobs, angles, etc. – but it also prepares you for high school and college play.  If you’ve ever gone to a college tennis match, oftentimes the doubles can be the tipping point for a win or a loss.  The doubles players are highly-valued at both the high school and college level.  Why not in the juniors???

I had the opportunity to “talk” to Dan Kiernan, coach of the winning doubles team at the 2012 Australian Open Junior event who also happens to be a pretty accomplished doubles player himself.  Dan’s opinion is that “tennis is a daunting sport and being on the court on your own one against one, losing on your own, winning on your own, are all difficult emotions to deal with. In general people are well ‘people’ people! If makes sense! And sharing is a nice emotion and in turn this will keep players in the game or attract them to stay in the game for longer.”

Dan goes on to confess that he knew that he wasn’t cut out to be a top singles player the day he won his first singles professional tournament.  He says, “I felt empty that evening- no one to share with, everyone had moved onto the next tournament,” so even the winning alone can be a problem.  Plus, doubles gives pros an opportunity to make money from the game.  Some very average tennis players (relatively!) have made great livings from doubles and stayed in the game at the pro level for longer.

Since the Powers That Be are constantly touting tennis as a Game For Life, they need to take a look around the community tennis courts and see how many Lifers are playing singles vs. doubles.  As we get older, doubles becomes a more feasible game for us to play.  How great for those who grew up learning that game and the strategies involved!

I understand that it’s tough for tournament directors to include doubles due to time constraints during the school year.  But, during school vacation times, it would be great to see more doubles competition available to our kids.

So, I hereby issue a challenge to the USTA and other tennis federations:  Reinstate doubles as an equal partner for junior tennis.  Reinstate year-end doubles rankings.  Make doubles wins count the same as singles.  Encourage our juniors to develop their doubles skills AS JUNIORS so they have those skills throughout their lives.

A Matter of Fitness

AUSSIE OPEN SEMIFINAL MATCH SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

If you don’t want to know the outcome of the Djokovic-Murray semifinal match, stop reading now!

I watched that match with great interest, especially as it moved into the 5th set.  Both players were looking a bit fatigued, and it was obvious that this match was going to come down to who was the most fit – both physically and mentally.  While Djokovic has traditionally been plagued with physical ailments which caused him to either retire matches or lose them outright, Murray has been plagued with fatigue of the mental sort but has always been a beast physically.  Today was different.  Murray seemed to lose his legs early in the final set, struggling to stay in points long enough to do damage to his opponent.  Somehow, he found a last burst of energy to come back from a 2-5 deficit, but, eventually, Djokovic had a little more in the tank and was able to close out the match 7-5 in the 5th.

Why is this important to note?  Because our junior players are no longer being pushed to their physical limits in tournament play.  Many tournaments, even those at the highest national level, have gone to playing a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a 3rd set and to playing short sets in the case of weather delays.  When our American kids are across the net from their European or South American or Asian counterparts, are they going to be able to withstand the physical – and mental – pressure of playing for three full sets?

And, it’s not just the length of the match that is in question – it’s also the style of play our kids are being taught.  As Greek coach Chris Karageorgiades told me,  “The game in Europe is more physical because their philosophy is different. In the US it has traditionally been about developing players with big weapons (namely serve and forehand). This is changing in order for players to better prepare for what has become a more physical game which is played from the back of the court.  Whether this is a good or bad decision for the future of American tennis remains to be seen.”   If you watched any of the Djokovic-Murray match, you saw some incredible points that involved 20+ shots moving the ball side-to-side and front-to-back.  To stay in that type of point – over and over again for an entire match – takes incredible leg strength, stamina, and fitness.  I’m concerned that our American juniors are not being adequately prepared for this type of protracted battle.

Two-time Australian Open Champion and current junior coach Johan Kriek shared with me the following:  “May I say, that growing up in S[outh] A[frica] on a farm with no TV, no X-box, no video games was a huge plus in my future physical make-up…today’s kids are digital…they need to be pushed, and push I do …the good ones will excel, the wimps will bail!”  Johan puts his players through fitness training every day:  the older kids working out in the gym, the younger ones working with resistance bands.  His biggest worry is that mediocrity is being accepted as normal, which he views as a societal ill that he just doesn’t tolerate with his players.

I know there’s been a lot of talk on the part of USTA about having the junior players train and compete more on clay, taking a page out of the Spanish book.  But, I’ve also heard that our American green clay is very different from the red dirt and that it doesn’t provide for the same type of movement and long points as the red stuff.  If that’s the case, are we wasting our time?  What can we do better?

Johan goes on to say that “Murray and Djokovic are fit, but that does not mean that the mind fatigues as well, and that has equal input in the body not functioning, the two are hugely connected. If you believe you can win ,the mind will push the body beyond human capacities, we see that in tennis and people that had to use enormous courage to survive near death etc, it is not the body that controls the mind, it is the mind that controls the body.  That is what separates the good players from the awesome players, not the strokes, they are all great! But the ‘head’.”

This is not only about being competitive on the professional level because, let’s face it, most of our kids aren’t on that path.  It’s also about positioning our kids to be competitive when it comes to playing college tennis.  They are up against foreign players again and again for scholarships and spots on college teams.  If they don’t have the physical and/or mental fitness skills to fight through long points and matches, how are they going to convince college coaches to give them one of a very few coveted spots on the team?