© P. McEnroe by robbiesaurus @ flickr

According to Jon Vegosen, Chairman of the Board & President of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the USTA’a mission is “to promote and develop the growth of tennis…with focus on promoting and developing the growth of people through tennis”. When asked about an explanation for why “the US tennis hasn’t reached its own high expectations at the elite level in recent years, while certain European nations have dominated”, Vegosen delivered the following reasons:

  1. “the professional game has changed significantly with advances in technology – especially with strings. The game is now largely played in the backcourt, and it’s not as easy for American players who learned to serve and volley to compete.”
  2. “in other countries, tennis is one of the most popular sports – right behind soccer. In the U.S., the best athletes have a wide variety of other sports they can choose to take up.”
  3. “since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world has opened up in ways we never thought possible, and tennis has caught on like wildfire in countries that never used to exist. As Thomas Friedman has said, it has indeed become a flat world.”

One could argue that the answers Jon Vegosen provides are inadequate because his conclusions are incorrect!

Let’s dissect his first reason:

  • “the professional game has changed significantly with advances in technology – especially with strings.” TRUE
  • “The game is now largely played in the backcourt” TRUE

Conclusion: Therefore, “it’s not as easy for American players who learned to serve and volley to compete.” WRONG

Doesn’t “style of play” (e.g. serve & volley, baseliner, etc.) have something to do with coaching since the coaches develop the player’s stroke production capabilities, fitness and mental toughness, which are all variables that effect style of play capabilities and overall success? Therefore, the conclusion should have addressed how to improve the quality of coaching in the US.

2nd Reason

Now let’s take a look at the 2nd reason:

  • “in other countries, tennis is one of the most popular sports – right behind soccer” TRUE (e.g. Europe)
  • “In the U.S., the best athletes have a wide variety of other sports they can choose to take up.” TRUE

Conclusion: Popularity of tennis is higher outside the US and competition with other sports is higher within the USA, which implies that more and more people play tennis outside of the USA than in the US.

The problem with his conclusion is that he is comparing apples with oranges. The USA is a large country with a population of approx. 300 million, where 27 million play tennis on a regular basis, which is about 9% of the population ([27 / 300] x 100 = 9%) . Now, Germany for instance has a population of approx. 81 million, where 5 million play tennis overall and maybe 1 million people playing tennis on a regular basis, which is about 1.2% of the population ([1 / 81] x 100 = 1.2%). In other words, even if tennis ranks only e.g. 6th in popularity in the US the amount of people playing tennis (quantity) is still higher than the folks playing tennis in Germany, where tennis ranks #2 in popularity.

3rd Reason

And finally the 3rd reason:

  • “since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world has opened up in ways we never thought possible” TRUE
  • “tennis has caught on like wildfire in countries that never used to exist” MAYBE

Conclusion: More competition has led to the decline of US tennis.

Competition in sports is usually a good thing since it maximizes player potentials. In the free market world, as a (former) market leader, it sounds kind of weak to blame competition for the loss of dominance and lack of success. Also, even if ”tennis has caught on like wildfire in countries that never used to exist” there are also instances where countries lost a great number of people playing tennis over the years. For example, there were a lot more people playing tennis in Germany during the Beccker/Graf era of 90’s than today.

 

References

 

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