Now that the 2014 U.S. Open is history, this may be a good time to reflect both on it and some changes to junior tennis now being discussed.
Based on my two visits to the Open, the attendance and state of Grand Slams continue to thrive...record crowds seeing top-flight matches. The innovations for 2014 like adding viewing bleachers at the practice courts and creating more spectator space and show courts are very viewer friendly. Through the first week, grounds passes were enough to get you to some top players and exciting, close matches. However, the scheduling did leave something to be desired. On Labor Day, for example, all the best matches were at Armstrong so those who purchased Ashe Stadium seats were out of luck when all entrances to Armstrong were blocked off by enforcement-minded ushers, reserved only for those with Armstrong tickets. Since people pay more for Ashe seats than Armstrong, this was giving greater value to those who paid less. The waiting line to get into Armstrong stretched back almost half the distance of the entire grounds, so there was little hope in getting in by waiting on line.
The scheduling of matches for several of the days the second week had mainly junior matches on the grounds, with almost no adult matches taking place except for the 3 show courts. And while most of our readers might wish to see the top juniors in the world (although more than half the junior entries were Americans--home court advantage), we pay to see the touring pros. Another irritant which has been going on for years is the exorbitant cost for food. Of course at major sports venues, you expect to pay more, but still, a lunch for two at the Open usually will cost you $ 35.00 or more at any of the long lined food village stands. That is, 2 sandwiches and 2 soft drinks. Then again, some of the souvenir T-shirts at the Open have hit $ 45.00 per T-shirt and a U.S. Open hat can set you back $ 25.00.
The atmosphere at the Open, so often commented on, is totally different from the other Grand Slams...Flushing Meadow is loud, brash and attracts many more casual sports fans than diehard tennis fans. Still, this annual spectacle definitely is worth going and after all, provides the financial means for the USTA to conduct many of its year round activities, especially for juniors.
In late August I also attended the annual USPTA-Tennis Teachers Conference held at the Hyatt in midtown Manhattan. Some 1300 teaching pros, club managers, tennis directors, tennis manufacturers and others in the industry met to discuss issues of the day. Among the many seminars was a panel discussion involving the International Tennis Federation (ITF), U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Swimming and USA Lacrosse. Dave Miley of the ITF: "Lifestyles have changed and tennis must adapt its game and competition to adhere to the new lifestyles." Dave proposed and the USTA plans to impliment shorter tournaments more for the unranked high school level players so that more teenagers will stay involved in junior tennis throughout the year. Among the goals: one day tournaments, no add scoring or timed matches. These tournaments will help build a team environment and enable not just the top juniors but those on junior varsity to compete successfully in competition. One program in Toledo, Ohio already offers the high school coed challenge, boy versus girl matches. This new model will include play days and social activities off the court like a pizza party after the matches.
Another speaker, Peter Smith, Mens Coach at NCAA Champions University of Southern California, put it this way: "Juniors want to play for a higher purpose than just themselves. We need more team tennis in juniors." And at all levels of ability.
Interestingly, one of the foundagtion pillars of TENNIS: EUROPE has always been the "TEAM" concept from our earliest days 42 years ago. We travel as a team representing our country and we root each other on. Social activities are an important part of this, as the Tennis Teachers conference speakers repeatedly noted. In Europe, tournaments often have social activities like a BBQ, boat ride, tournament party as part of the week for all participants. In Holland for example, the winner always offers the loser of a match a soft drink. Over the drinks, the two competitors sit down for a few post-match minutes to learn more about each other and their cultural backgrounds. This relaxed, laid back atmosphere is what makes the tournaments on the continent fun and friendly.
P.S. - Our new 2015 TENNIS: EUROPE itineraries are now on-line in the accompanying web-site. In line with the forthcoming shorter USTA tournaments, we are offer 11 day trips along with our longer trips and tennis trips which combine tennis and Spanish study and tennis and a fascinating post-tournament community service projects. Just contact us for further details (1-800-253-7486).