Before I launch into how Americans suck on clay, I want to congratulate Andy Roddick for an impressive three set win over Tommy Haas in Madrid on Wednesday. It was a gutsy debut on the red stuff. Okay, back to business. . .
There’s been lots of talk going into the French Open about both the Americans’ lack of success on clay and their lack of success in general. There’s a good article from The Canadian Press that breaks down the U.S. troubles: the 21 Majors that have passed since Andy Roddick took the 2003 U.S. Open title is the longest American men’s Slam singles drought in the Open Era. Andre Agassi won Roland Garros 10 years ago and was also the last American man to make it to the quarterfinals there – in 2003.
Patrick McEnroe, the USTA’s General Manager of Elite Player Development, thinks that curing the American clay court phobia is the key to improving the USA’s performance on every surface. He spoke with reporters via conference call on Tuesday. Here’s some of what he had to say:
On teaching young Americans to play on clay (via Reuters):
“If you develop players more on clay…they will become better all court players, even …better fast court players.”
“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.”
But don’t turn them into “clay-courters” – oh, the horror! (via a terrific article at ZooTennis):
“I want to sort of clear this up for people. Some say, you’re trying to teach our players to be clay-courters. No, we’re not. I’ve actually had this conversation with Jose (Higueras, the USTA’s Director of Coaching) numerous times. I always remind him. I say, Jose, most of our great American players essentially are attacking players. We don’t want to take away that as our mentality of players. So we want to keep that. But at the same time we want our kids to be able to learn how to build points better, how to use all the court better, and, yes, how to be fitter. If you play on clay from a younger age, you will automatically become fitter because you have to hit more balls and you have to create more opportunities rather than just going for broke all the time.”
When Rafael Nadal retires, I’m sure Patrick McEnroe will come a knocking! Care to ditch Majorca for Carson, Rafa?
If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out the following articles: Reuters (click here), ZooTennis (click here), The Canadian Press (click here), and The New York Times (click here). Also, I “Twittered” this yesterday, but in case you didn’t check it out – click here for a must read piece on Jose Higueras from Bonnie D. Ford at ESPN.com.
Confidential to Van @ Tennis Talk, Anyone?: I’m eagerly awaiting your take 😉