by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer
When I was in high school in the 1940?s, physical education teachers use to look down at tennis. A common statement from coaches at that time was, "If you can?t play football, basketball or baseball, why don?t you try tennis."
What a downer. Fortunately, the sports world has discovered that tennis champions are, in fact, super athletes on a par with those of any other sport. As a matter of fact, there have been a huge number of professional athletes from "major" sports who thought they could master tennis in the space of summer. They are still having trouble beating experienced twelve year old children.
My friend Joe Dumars, General Manager of the NBA's Detroit Pistons, loves tennis. He was even hoping to eventually play on the Senior tennis tour after his playing days with the Pistons. Well, he is still struggling with his tennis, but he does pays tribute to the true athletic nature of the game. Joe is a super athlete, intelligent and a great person who stays involved with Children?s Hospitals and possessed of a success story as an athlete and general manager that is well known, but his struggle with tennis makes him a perfect spokesperson for the game.
While sitting in the Atlanta airport recently, I recalled what happened to me in high school. When I was the quarterback on the high school football team and captain of the basketball team, there was plenty of friendly talk among members of each team. While it is true that I didn?t set the world on fire with either team, I thought that might change when I won the Michigan State High School Tennis Championship for three straight years, but only a few people noticed, or talked about it.
I just left San Antonio, Texas where I was presenting at the Texas Tennis Coaches Association. There were four hundred coaches in attendance and several were also football coaches. That would have never happened decades ago. In addition, while sending out some emails at night, there was a nice story in the Palm Springs newspaper about the successful National Junior Tennis League program that attracted hundreds of new young players from desert areas that knew little about tennis ten years ago.
Having operated tennis schools in Europe in previous years, I was constantly amazed at the number of boys and girls who played soccer everyday. Tennis was not considered a major sport until a German, Boris Becker, won Wimbledon. But things have changed around the world over the years and tennis is now the number two sport, behind soccer, in many countries with champions surfacing in areas previously unknown for a single player with championship credentials. For example, Marcos Baghdatis, formerly Limassol, Cyprus, was a surprise finalist in the Shanghai Masters and many of us had never heard of a single professional player from Cyprus.
Marcos Baghdatis, who hails from the little country of Cyprus, won over $1.1 million on the ATP tour in 2006.
However, on the other side of this worldwide explosion, there has surfaced some negative implications for United States Tennis Association (USTA) leaders. The USTA generates most of its money from business dealings that surround the U.S. Open. Most of the sections get their money from the USTA and television rights produce a significant amount of that. Television productions are more successful, frankly when Americans are in the semifinals, or finals of the U.S. Open. Just a simple fact of life, of tennis. If American players fail to represent exciting challenges to foreign players, television contracts might be negatively affected.
The bottom line is that more tennis coaches means more players will be brought into the game. More tennis players means that fewer potential tennis champions will be choosing to compete in soccer, and other sports instead of or at the same time. Now that the number of new tennis players has increased by nearly five million in two years, the next challenge will be to develop champions. It appears that a potential tennis explosion is possible and that new challenges will face us, but I like what I see after sixty-one years as a tennis coach. My, how time has changed tennis.