US Open: Boris Becker says American juniors need role model
Last Updated: 05/09/13 12:29pm
Boris Becker branded men's tennis in America 'embarrassing' after no player from the host country reached the US Open fourth round.
It's the first time in the tournament's history that no US male has been involved at this stage in the competition and highlights a worrying trend.
"Tennis is so popular in Britain because of a guy called Andy Murray. But who's the role model in tennis in America on the male side?"
In 1984 there were 39 American men in the top 100 of the world rankings. Now, there are currently six, with the retired James Blake set to drop out of the standings next week.
While Arthur Ashe Stadium holds 23,000 fans and America's Slam continues to go from strength-to-strength, tennis is well behind the likes of basketball and baseball in popularity and 1989 US Open champion Becker believes the country's youth are missing an inspirational role model.
"It's embarrassing - they have this beautiful Grand Slam with a centre court that holds 25,000 people in New York City and we're talking about foreign players all the time," he told Sky Sports.
"But just because you have a Grand Slam doesn't mean you automatically produce successful juniors.
"The most popular sport in the US is probably basketball and look at how it's promoted - every child wants to be a LeBron James.
"The reason tennis is so popular in Britain is because of a guy called Andy Murray. He makes it popular. But who's the role model in tennis in America on the male side? You don't find them.
"The role model is important. That's why people want to be LeBron James or the best American Football player or baseball player."
The last American men's Grand Slam winner was Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open.
With the States' winless streak now stretching to ten years Annabel Croft suggested the country's talent identification programme may not be up to scratch and emphasised the character traits youngsters needed to progress to the top of the sport.
"A lot of parents who put their kids into tennis get over-excited because they hit the ball well," she said.
"They then have dreams of their kids coming into these big stadiums and living the dream. But the reality is it's such a long journey from a kid who is quite talented and can hit the ball well. It requires a lot more than that to make the pro circuit.
"It's a long, arduous, soulless existence and it can be soul-destroying at times. You play in tough circumstances with no audiences and suffer a lot of losses along the way. If you're an insular child and not able to cope with the defeats it really is an uphill battle.
"We can sit here and enjoy the US Open and the glamour but the reality of getting a child onto the tour is a different prospect and you have to be certain character to cope with that journey along the way."
However, Becker reckons if the US Tennis Association used the experience and wisdom of their brightest talents from the past - Jim Courier, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras - then they could soon reverse their fortunes.
"If even half those guys got together now and formed a tennis academy funded by the USTA I guarantee you in five years' time you'd have Americans playing here in the semi-finals and final," he said.
"They know how tennis is played today, they've played the right way for many years and they can spot talent."