OK, yes, in the “killing fields of Flushing” as one reporter put this year’s US Open women’s field, Melanie Oudin is the proverbial (or hackneyed) beacon of hope, ray of sunshine, girl-next-door. But she is not going to save women’s tennis or even American tennis all by herself. And she’s going to be facing a lot more pressure than that imposed by Caroline Wozniacki’s backhand if she is deemed thus by the media. But it already seems to be happening. In fact, after all the putting down of women’s tennis in the lead-up to the US Open, this NYT article is suggesting the women’s draw is far more interesting than the men’s this year. Um, yeah, I think so too. But I always thought that.
In a separate but related story, the NYT also addresses the lack of diversity in American women’s tennis post-Williams sisters. It’s true. For a while–like that one summer many years ago–it looked like Alexandra Stevenson could be a suitable successor, but her game never made it that far and the Williams sisters are still going strong. Angela Haynes makes a little noise every once in a while and she is fun to watch when she plays WTT but she can never make a dent in the Slam draws it seems. Vania King is similarly situated. A minor upset here and there.
The USTA has a new chief diversity officer, but the NYT thinks that the USTA should hire Richard Williams and Oracene Price to help out. I’m not a huge fan of that suggestion. Williams would do coaching, the writer suggests, and Price would counsel young women of color on how to deal with the pressures of tour life as an American racial minority. I can see the latter situation–but I actually think Venus and Serena themselves would be better at that. Sounds like a great position for them after retirement (assuming they ever retire!!) But Richard Williams as a coach makes me a little nervous. His unconventionality worked–for a while–with his daughters, but I have found some of his past actions a little suspect and I doubt the USTA would take such a risk. I think he says brilliant, insightful things at times, and at others…not so much.
[Of course Brad Gilbert says inane things all the time and people just keep handing him a mic.]
But the gist of the article is correct. The USTA needs to do something about diversity in its player development program. And it needs to draw on experience to do so.