Serving up mediocrity at the Australian Open
Some interesting commentary has been made this week regarding the perilous nature of professional tennis in Australia, and more worryingly, how there seems to be no end in sight to the current slump in the fortunes of our country’s best.
Media experts and armchair critics alike all seem to be onto a common theme, that until apparent complacency is lost and significant investments are made at the grass-roots level by tennis administrators, mediocrity is here to stay.
In The Australian last week, Patrick Smith wrote a series of columns on the current state of tennis in Australia, and in them he hasn’t painted a rosy picture.
Smith made an interesting observation on the relative states of professional tennis and golf, the sports we typically say we’ll be steering our kids to, commenting:
“Golf cannot boast anything as grand as the annual money-making Australian Open here at Melbourne Park but it has nine men in the top 100 rankings, and two women in the top 20 alone. Mens tennis will end this tournament with no one in the top 100. Golf produces winners, tennis just excuses.”
It’s a fair comment, and probably says as much about how well our golfers seem to be getting on internationally than it does about the way Tennis Australia (TA) perhaps takes for granted the lone Southern Hemisphere Grand Slam tournament.
In the ten years since Pat Rafter hit the top of the world rankings, with dual success in New York, and a couple of near-misses at Wimbledon, where are the young serve and volley grass court specialists that should have followed?
In fact where are the grass courts now?
Where are the new big-serving Mark Philippoussis clones? (That’s Mark Philippoussis the tennis player too, not Mark Philippoussis the reality television failure.)
Even with Lleyton Hewitt on the comeback trail, and despite the unbelievable media hype surrounding Bernard Tomic, it’s hard to see how a Grand Slam title will come Australia’s way in the next ten years.
Conversely, with Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott in or about golf’s top ten ranked players, it’s hard to see a golf major not coming Australia’s way in the next ten years.
And there are new golf courses going in everywhere.
So while promising young golfers seem to have reasonably clear pathways to turning professional, and ultimately hitting the international circuits, Patrick Smith highlighted that the same cannot be said for our young tennis kiddies.
Smith wrote that “TA has said that 100 players have been targeted but the parents wonder whether the people who count in Australian tennis development could put a name to a face or know who plays left- or right-handed.
“They are irked, too, that Tomic’s entourage has been set up with major sponsorships, additional coaches of their choice to train and travel with while the majority of the other would-be stars might not even have their player touring or training schedules outlined.”
So if TA seems to be pinning all its hopes on Tomic – and the overwhelming media coverage Tomic received last week suggests they are – what hope is there for future tennis success in this country?
And that’s without looking at the obvious problems at the grass roots, where courts are increasingly been ripped up and replaced with townhouses and apartments.
And is Tomic going to play Davis Cup ties on his own?
Tennis Australia clearly needs to have a good look at itself in the mirror. Certainly the tennis public doesn’t like what it sees of its peak body, and in particular the narrow-mindedness when it comes to supporting up-and-coming players.
It’s hard to see how the situation has been allowed to get this far.
Perhaps tennis’ part-time media presence has been both a blessing and a curse, in that it’s only around the time of the Grand Slams that the problem raises its head. But still, four times a year should be regular enough to be noticed and acted upon.
Imagine the uproar if Cricket Australia just rested on past successes and suddenly pinned all hopes on a new dashing batsman who’s been on the scene for five minutes?
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-1st Grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009 (having joined in Sept 2008), Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport
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