By NEIL AMDUR
At a time when recreational tennis is on the rise in the United States an emphasis is being placed on recruiting youngsters, Americans are conspicuous by their absence in the late-round singles draws at most professional tournaments.
Officials of the United States Tennis Association say junior development has never been more organized, with national and regional training centers, dozens of former pros as salaried coaches (with Patrick McEnroe as the general manager of elite player development) and a serious commitment to finding future champions.
“There’s no secret formula, and that’s our strength,” says Martin Blackman, a former touring pro, college coach and now the senior director for talent identification and development with the U.S.T.A. He acknowledges a “paradigm shift in the late ’80s” that opened opportunities for players in Eastern Europe and in Latin America.
“What we’re doing at the national level now is complementary and inclusive,” Blackman said.
But critics like Robert Lansdorp, the California stroke guru, and Pete Fischer, who developed Pete Sampras’s serve and his tactical all-court game, say the focus is misguided.
“Everything is fragmented,” Fischer said during a recent telephone interview from California, citing conflicting coaching techniques and different competitive priorities as inhibitors to producing champions. “I don’t see one vision. The U.S.T.A. is graded on how their players do in I.T.F. events. Who cares about that? Short-term goals get in the way of long-term goals.”
Lansdorp, who prefers one-on-one coaching to academy and training centers, said he talked to McEnroe recently.
“He has the right ideas,” Lansdorp said, “but you don’t get a champion out of a group. You have to find talent. And then you have to develop that talent.”
In a phone interview, McEnroe acknowledged the appointment of Jos