by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer
If you think times are tough locating tennis champions in the United States, the indicators here are that the situation might just get worse. Really? Yes, really. In former times, one could look at the US, Australia, Spain, France and Great Britain for future champions. Today, that has changed and one can see Russia, China, Japan, Africa, Thailand, Croatia and a host of other countries totally convinced that they can produce the next male and female world champions. Their dedication to same is much more focused and concentrated than ours. It beomes a symbol of national pride and no expense or effort is spared in achieving same...or attempting to do so.
While attending first round matches at this year's US Open, I saw first round winners from Serbia, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Austria and Switzerland, just to mention a few. And, for most, that led to instant geography lessons throughout the stadium and press areas.
I receive more and more requests from foreign countries asking about research that we've done on champions these days and that tells me the administrators from several countries, large and small, are looking for the fast track to producing champions. They can see the potential and opportunity.
|American James Blake (9th) is the second highest ranked American behind Andy Roddick (8th) on the ATP Tour this year.
Theories on which ingredients are common to champions are in the thousands. One common one making the rounds is an amazing desire to achieve international fame, right up there with rock stars. Why not? They are usually young, good looking, intelligent, ready for the limelight and burning with desire and reckless abandon coupled with intensity and envious training regimens. One often hears how Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic dodged intermittent bombing attacks to practice in an empty swimming pool. However, I've seen young players practice extra hours each day, live and sleep tennis, win some local events and never even qualify for minor pro events. Patrick McEnroe is now in charge of the US High Performance Program. His task is formidable and there are questions about his ability to inspire without his famous brother making the rounds and speeches to inspire.
Fortunately, there are some Americans keeping our hopes alive. The Williams sisters continually find themselves in either the singles, or doubles, finals. The men haven't been as successful. Andy Roddick is our main hope to date and he is not breaking down any fences or nets. James Blake, Mardy Fish and Sam Querry performed well at the 2008 US Open, but as I wrote this article in the fourth round of the US Open, I couldn't find one expert who would predict a championship in singles for an American male player.
When Braintypist, Jon Niednagel, typed tennis champions years ago, the most common personality label for champions was ISTP. The "I" is for introvert, "S" is for sensate (or very practical using the five senses to solve problems), the "T" was for expert thinker and the "P" was for those who left their options open and were not controlled by rigid schedules. Some of the names in the ISTP category were John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Monica Seles, Rod Laver, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Michael Chang. Immediately, people challenged the "introvert" label on McEnroe. It's easy to name no more than five close friends of extroverts, but when we ask people to name two close friends for McEnroe and Connors, we get no responses. Mind you, there may be some, but extroverts talk about their close friends and introverts rarely do. There is something to be said for that if you take a moment to think about it and put it in perspective to understand, as much as you can, the person about whom you are speaking.
Jack Kramer, Billie Jean King, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are extroverts and intuitive thinkers. ENTP's often stay in the limelight long after their playing careers have ended. Some often end up in the coaching arena but not with the flair and attention of their students.
I've often heard coaches say that simple hard work and expert data, combined with a superb athletic talent, will produce champions. I've seen hundreds who fit this criteria and those players never made it to any significant level.
What's needed is a serious research effort to seek in-depth answers from top players, their coaches and parents. Even that's a problem because many top players don't want to include data that they hold as secret. Sharing is not a popular item on the tennis tour.
The bottom line is to enjoy the American players who are working their hearts out and doing the very best they can. After all, even if there are only a handful of Americans near the top, there are millions of young players who would like to be in their shoes. As for me, I think there is an answer out there and I would like to discover it before I head for a tennis tournament with the greats of yesteryear that are no longer among us.