American tennis players have approached the clay court season with a lot of fear and U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe believes that the surface is the key to unearthing the next American champion.
“If you develop players more on clay … they will become better all-court players, even … better fast-court players,” McEnroe said during a conference call on Tuesday. “The way the game has changed with the technology, the rackets, the strings, the athleticism and the speed you have to learn how to build the point and play with spin, play with angle, take the ball early. You basically have to do it all.
“We’re not teaching our players to be clay-courters. We’re not going to change into a clay-court nation anytime soon. But we certainly feel it is a huge part of the developmental process for kids to become all-around players,” he said.
While McEnroe would like to see younger players embrace more of the clay-court game, he acknowledges it comes at the expense of the attacking, aggressive style favored by Americans on the lightning-quick hard courts.
“Most of our great American players are attacking players; we don’t want to take that away as our mentality,” said McEnroe. “We want to keep that. But at the same time we want our kids to know how to build points better, use all the court better and how to be fitter.
“If you play on clay you will automatically get fitter because you play more balls and you have to create more shots rather than going for broke all the time,” he said.
The USTA has invested close to $15 million a year in regional training centers and coaching initiatives to help find and develop players to arrest that slide.
“The rest of world has caught up,” said McEnroe. “We believe we’ve been lacking in having a systematic approach to how we teach our kids overall, a coaching philosophy. We’re reaching out to as many coaches with the philosophy we have when it comes to understand how to play tennis as opposed to how to hit the ball.
“I don’t believe that you can necessarily create a champion but you can create an environment where you’re setting yourself up to find champions easier,” he said. “We’re trying to find players we think can become legitimate professionals and we believe that in the long run the more players you have there the better chance you are going to have finding the next Pete Sampras.”