The United States sports landscape has been growing exponentially since it began, with sports like basketball, football and baseball. Until more recently, over the last 50 years or so, tennis has been on the rise in popularity among US sports fans. Since the days of Billy-Jean King and Arthur Ashe, who put tennis on the map for the average sports fan to the Williams sisters and Andre Agassi in more recent times, the United States has been a dominating force in the tennis world.
The story of tennis starts with Billie Jean King, a former World No. 1 professional lawn tennis player who won 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women’s doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. She won the singles title at the inaugural WTA Tour Championships. King also represented the United States in the Federation Cup and the Wightman Cup. She was a member of the victorious United States team in seven Federation Cups and nine Wightman Cups. For three years, she was the United States’ captain in the Federation Cup. King is an advocate for gender equality and has long been a pioneer for equality and social justice. She was also the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation. Regarded by many in the sport as one of the greatest women’s tennis players of all time, King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.
Then came the legendary Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. Ashe won three Grand Slam titles over his career. Ashe was the first black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only black man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. He retired in 1980 with a career high ranking of 2nd in the world. Both King and Ashe are forever engraved in the US tennis world and both have the main courts at the US Open named after them.
The next generation of US tennis superstars featured the likes of Andre Agassi, “Pistol” Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and John McEnroe. By some tennis fans, this was considered to be the ‘Golden Generation’ of mens tennis, the four men 33 Grand Slam Titles, with Sampras leading the way at 14. Some were known for their elegance on the court and their ability to make every point look effortless like Sampras, others were known for their fiery competitive spirit and abuse of officials like McEnroe, and others for their odd sense of fashion like Agassi. Yet all four men combined to drive the US tennis program to even greater heights and inspire the next generation of tennis players to pick up their racquets. To this day, the names Agassi, Sampras and McEnroe are fixed to the US tennis identity.
The aforementioned ‘next generation’ includes the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers. Serena Williams, the most decorated singles tennis player on the women’s side with 23 Grand Slam titles is paving the way, both on and off the court for young tennis players in the US. Serena has been a leader on the women’s front in terms of fighting for equality and recognition for girl, both in the US and all over the world. Her famous work with NIKE, through her reputation as one of the athletes of all time, has brought exposure to the sport all over the US.
The latest poll in 2018 showed that 35.4 million Americans picked up a tennis racquet in 2018, a number that has doubled since 2013. A collaborative industry effort over the last several years, led by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), has helped to increase the number of youth tennis players in the country. In 2014, the number of players in the 6- to 12-year-old age bracket increased 4% to 2.14 million, while 13- to 17-year-old players grew 9% to 2.23 million, and those numbers have been growing ever since with the help of professional organizations like the USTA and private academies. Some of these private academies are the Nick Bollettieri Junior Tennis Academy which produced tennis legends like the Williams sisters, Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, the Saviano Tennis Academy which has produced players like the current #15 in the world Sloane Stephens. With an estimated 250,000 tennis courts nation-wide and growing, it’s no surprise that the love for tennis is as well.
These academies, along with other internationally located ones like the Rafa Nadal Academy, Novak Djokovic Tennis Academy and Justin Henin Tennis Academy serve as stepping stones to get to the professional tour. The Rafa Nadal Academy is one of the top tennis training centres in the world. It opened its doors in September 2016 with the mission of offering high quality training programs for juniors and adults. Since then the project has expanded internationally, with the inauguration of the training Centre in Cancun in December 2018 and the soon to open Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre in the Halkidiki Peninsula in Greece. The Novak Tennis Center Ex Novak Djokovic Tennis Academy is a training centre that offers programs for all ages and levels. No matter what your age or skill level is, at our center you’ll find a program that works for your needs and development goals. Built on the vision of Novak Djokovic. Goal is to focus on long term development that enhances natural potential. Gives each player the chance to play at his or her highest level. Former World No.1 Justine Henin opened the Academy in 2007 after her remarkable career as a tennis player. She aims to convey a range of values of sports training like courage, fighting spirit, respect, and discipline. The philosophy of Justine Henin Tennis Academy is based on the fact that the performance should not be seen as an end in itself. The result of an activity is essentially the result from a state of mind.
With the continued success of American tennis players on the tour like Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, John Isner and Taylor Fritz, along with the endless resources at the disposal of youth tennis players, the ceiling for US tennis is ENDLESS.
*Image courtesy of US Open.org