2011 Australian Open: Where are the Americans in Tennis?

As the 2011 tennis season kicked off with the first major, Australian Open, no one can deny the lack of American players in tennis. Over the last decade, the number of American professional tennis players (men and women) has declined.

Serena and Venus Williams are ranked four and five in the world. They have dominated women’s tennis for the last decade. The ladies usually compete in doubles and singles. Venus is 30 and Serena is 29 years old. Unfortunately, both sisters are out of the Australian Open due to injuries.

Although finding an American female in most grand slams is rare; there are some American women who garnered media attention in recent years. They are Melanie Oudin and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Melanie Oudin is ranked 63 and was recently defeated in the first round of the Australian Open. Bethanie Mattek-Sands is ranked 48.

The game of tennis has changed tremendously for women. It’s no longer a game of just hitting drop shots, lobs over an opponents’ head, and out smarting an opponent by coming to the net. A professional tennis player must have superior hand and eye coordination, good reflexes, strong mental attitude, competitive strategies, volleying skills, good cardio and conditioning, strong and controlled back hands/forehands; power serves (aces, 1st and 2nd), strength, speed, balance, flexibility, and agility, and the ability to adapt to the different surfaces (clay, grass, hard courts, etc).

Although, there are plenty of tennis academies in different parts of the US, specifically in states like California and Florida, many of the juniors or teen players are not adjusting or prepared to play on the professional circuit. The development seems to be taking a longer period of time.

I don’t understand this because many of the most successful female tennis players were young adults when they turned pro; Tracy Austin at 14, Steffi Graf at 13, Martina Hingis at 14, Lindsay Davenport playing at 17, Monica Seles at 16, Jennifer Capriati at 14, and the Williams sisters at 14. Chris Evert won the 16 and under championships to secure an invitation to play in US Open at the age of 16.

This brings me to another point – most successful tennis players’ parents played a huge role in their successes. Either a parent or both parents were coaches. Players like Jennifer Capriati, Chris Evert, Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf, and the Williams sisters are included.

Yes, tennis is an expensive sport and development takes a great deal of time and money (coaches, facilities, equipment, school, etc). Interestingly, tennis is ranked number seven on the list of Worlds Most Popular Sports ahead of American football.

Do Americans value this sport or feel it’s worth the investment? Does parents’ influences make a difference in this sport specifically? Will we see any “rising stars” from the US?

It will be interesting to see how the 2011 tennis season develops. I hope there will be new American players that will nudge us into a new age of excitement and rivalry.