Discussing John McEnroe’s “Top Ten Recommendations for Improving Tennis in the 21st Century” 1/2

Is there a way to make tennis better? Are you unsatisfied with some aspects of the game today? Maybe you will find interesting the last part of John McEnroe’s autobiography “Serious”. Published in 2002, just after the big turn into a new millennium, the book has a final chapter made up by the “Top 10 recommendations  for improving tennis in the 21st century”. Even though almost ten years have gone by since their formulation, some of McEnroe’s ideas are still very popular among tennis analysts and commentators. We would like to discuss them one by one, starting with the first five.

1. Tennis should have a commissioner. Baseball, football, and basketball all do, why not our sport? (I’m available…)

I don’t believe such a figure would contribute to make tennis a better sport. Tennis is a much different discipline from those listed by John. While baseball, football and basketball are “national” sports, tennis is international and I do think that a strictly central organization with the presence of a commissioner would only give the game an exaggerated uniformity it doesn’t need. It’s nice to leave some autonomy to all the tennis events, or all the tournaments would end up looking the same in every part of the world. What tennis really does need is a skilled CEO, able to solve its main problems before thinking of raising his/her wage. I’m referring to issues such as the formulation of the season calendar. What we have seen in recent years, with Etienne de Villiers’ ideas of tournaments with round robin groups and Adam Helfant’s calendar organization for the men’s tour from 2012 on, are not exactly the best solutions…

2. The United States should have a National Tennis Academy. Flushing Meadows would be a natural site, but if the logistics there are too daunting, there are many other possibilities. Kids with potential should be brought in from all over the country, on scholarship if necessary, and they could be developed in much the same way I was by tony Palafox and Harry Hopman at the Port Washington Academy (I’m available here, too…)

I’m not in favor of a central tennis academy, either. I think that United States already has an almost official National academy in Nick Bollettieri’s, even if it’s not managed by the USTA. But, if this tennis school has given tennis good results in terms of numbers over the years, producing players such as Agassi, Courier, Capriati, Seles all able to reach the summits of the game, it has also contributed to create a unique and uniformed style of play, electing two handed backhand and play from the baseline to a credo. I think that every player should be free to develop his/her own style and a National academy goes right in the opposite direction.

3. Players need to be more accessible to fans and the media (did I really say that?), the way NASCAR drivers are.

While I think that media relations are already a big part of players’ daily routine, Mac is right as far as interaction with fans is concerned. Players like Federer and Nadal brought a huge popularity to the sport which is not completely exploited. I mean, there are lots of occasions, during tournaments, to meet top players, but, for example, if you look at the fanzone of the ATP World Tour website, it doesn’t even provide straight contact between tennis fans and players. There should be a way to access them on the official site of the ATP, giving them the opportunity to answer the fans’ questions through the site, while this occasion of meeting is left to the players’ official websites and to their social media profiles. Also, there’s no real community on the ATP official website, no forum for the exchange of opinions among fans. The interaction through Facebook and Twitter is not the same thing. And a downloadable screensaver and a fantasy game are not enough.

4. A return to wooden rackets would be a huge improvement for professional tennis. The biggest change in the game in the last twenty-five years – the replacement of wood by graphite – has been a bad one. I happen to think that wooden rackets are beautiful aesthetically and purer for the game. Look at baseball: kids start with aluminum bats in Little League, then move on to graphite or kevlar or whatever in college , and then – and only then – if they make it to the majors, do they get to use those beautiful wooden rackets bats that require greater expertise for success. Why not do the same thing in tennis? I think it looks great to have a little wand in your hand, instead of some ultra-thick club big enough to kill somebody with! Wood to me has glamour. You need strategy and technique. Tennis, these days, is sadly lacking in all those things. It’s all Wham, bam, thank you, mma’am.

This is a complete nonsense that I even refuse to comment. The evolution of materials made tennis a totally different sport, but it’s too late now to complain and a step back is something totally out of the world, from a commercial, technical and logical point of view. I assume this is a provocation of yours, Mac…

5. Like other sports, tennis should have a season. I’d recommend February to October. For three months every year there wouldn’t be any tennis. Players could rest and recharge; fans could work up a little hunger to see the game again.

This is a very interesting point, instead. As I said for point 1, the formulation of a reasonable season calendar is one of the big problems tennis has to face. While top players often complain their off season is too short, they are the first to arrange very lucrative exhibitions in the month of December, the only one with three weeks without official tennis. I think three months without tournaments would be too much for players (and for addicted fans as well…). After all, players are professionals and as intense a sport as tennis can be, there’s no professional on earth with three months off in a year. Nevertheless, I believe players should be left free to make their own schedules, there should not be mandatory tournaments (something that has killed minor events). The more you play (and, of course, the bigger tournaments you play), the more points you gain. Quite easy. As far as the calendar, I think January is too early for a Grand Slam event that should be placed after at least one big warm-up tournament. There’s too little rest between the French Open and Wimbledon and the post-US Open season is too long. Let’s say I would give players (and fans) one, but just one, extra week of rest.

Article written by Tennis Buzz’s contributor Mauro Cappiello
Read the second part of the article»

5 Responses
  1. Kari says:

    1. i don’t know what a comisioner is but i think it’s good they tried things different like the round robin. it was not good but at least they have tried

    2. i don’t think a national academy means a unique style of play. see the french players for example.
    but at the same time i contradict myself because everybody plays the same, tennis academy or not.

    3. i don’t know what they could do more, they autograph and pics with fans in the tournaments.

    4. ahah ah, but nobody would be ok with that!

  2. ludmilla says:

    Thanks for the article, Mauro! Thanks for your comments Kari.

    1. I must say I don’t really know what’s the difference between a commissioner and a CEO.
    But for me what needs to be done is more and more unification between the ATP and WTA, and stop changing the name of the tournaments!
    For example there are 9 Masters 1000 (previously Masters) on the ATP Tour and 20 Premier events on the WTA Tour.
    There are so many tournaments nowadays, that tennis fans get confused.

  3. ludmilla says:

    2. France has a National Academy but you can’t really compare France and USA. In France it’s the only way for high level juniors to meet other high level juniors. And in France everything is so centralized.
    For me US juniors should come to Europe to learn the game. They can only serve and hit a big forehand, they have no tactics, no technique and no footwork.

    Since 2006 they have now a National Tennis Centre at Flushing Meadows, but I don’t know what’s the aim of the centre. By the way, McEnroe also opened a tennis academy in New York.

  4. ludmilla says:

    5. The season needs to be shorten, that’s a fact. The ATP should be inspired by the WTA’s calendar: the season ends at the end of October.
    They could also cancel some tournaments: no tournament the week before Roland Garros and the US Open for example.

    Players must also change their attitude, they cry because they play too much but sometimes the fault is only theirs: why fly thousand of kilometers to play exhibitions in Thailand, Doha or I don’t know where else. For the love of the game, no for the love of big easy money. So don’t cry because you’re tired.

    Some players like Nadal and Wozniacki just can’t figure out how to have a well-done schedule.
    For example, Nadal, again: he wins Roland Garros, goes to London to play at the Queens tournament, then go to Majorca for a few days of relax, and then go back to London. No need to be a genius to see it makes no sense!

    Another point: Nadal wasn’t complaining with the calendar when he was 19 and winning like 10 tournaments a year.

    As for the French Open-Wimbledon situation, Chris Gorringe explains in his autobiography why it is so tough to change the calendar. I will try to find the extract and post it here.

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