TIME tennis

American Weakness Is Glaring at the U.S Open

A general view of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Day Eight of the 2014 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 1, 2014 in the Queens.
A general view of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Day Eight of the 2014 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sept. 1, 2014 in the Queens. Julian Finney—Getty Images

For the second straight year — and just second time in history — no American men's player made the fourth round of the U.S. Open. Patrick McEnroe, America's chief talent developer, is out. What now?

Thursday night’s Roger Federer-Gael Monfils match, in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, should be a beauty. Federer, 33, is trying to give the New York crowd one final — maybe — ride to a title. He’s the sentimental favorite. Monfils, a thrilling player, is on the verge of delivering on his promise, and truly contending for a Grand Slam. Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori are already through to the semis. Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych are fighting for another spot Thursday afternoon. There’s plenty of talent, plenty of reason to watch.

And not an American in the bunch.

American tennis, particularly on the men’s side, has been in decline for quite some time. But right now, it’s at a low point. Only twice in the 134-year history of the U.S. Open has an American man failed to make the fourth round — this year, and last year. The last American man to win a Grand Slam title was Andy Roddick, back in 2003.

The American women are more encouraging. Serena Williams, 32, is still on top, and she has cruised into this year’s Open semis. And while she was the only American woman to reach the fourth round, a stable of younger players offer promise. For example, 15-year-old CiCi Bellis became the youngest player to win an Open match since 1996.

Still, the overall lack of results are glaring. And someone had to pay. Patrick McEnroe, head of the United States Tennis Association’s player development program, announced on Sept. 3 he was resigning from the post. McEnroe is an affable TV commentator, but his media commitments were a sore spot. How can someone be fully dedicated to developing players while holding down such a high-profile second job? The USTA, a non-profit organization, was reportedly paying McEnroe top-dollar: Nearly $875,000 in 2012, according to financial documents, and more than $1 million for each of the prior two years.

The bottom-line: McEnroe wasn’t delivering on the investment. He lives in the New York, while the USTA’s main training center is in Florida. The USTA is building a new $60 million facility in the Orlando area, and even McEnroe admits that his replacement should be based in central Florida.

Whoever gets the gig faces a harrowing challenge. Young athletes see so many Americans thriving in other sports. So why pick up a racquet? “Success breeds success,” says former U.S. pro Justin Gimelstob, a board member of the ATP tour. “Doubt breeds doubt.” Gimelstob says he’s in no position to second-guess McEnroe. “I don’t believe that systems create stars,” says Gimelstob. “Star players are unique. We can’t be looking for the USTA to create a U.S. Open champ. But a system can nurture talent.”

Gimelstob, naturally, is confident. “It will turn around,” he says. “We have the resources. The tennis landscape has changed. More people are playing around the world — it’s gotten so much more competitive. We had been on top for so long. Now we just have to fight five times as hard to get it back.”

 

 

 

TIME tennis

Gael Monfils Is the Most Interesting Guy in Tennis

2014 US Open - Day 9
Gael Monfils of France returns a shot against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in their men's singles fourth round match on Day Nine of the 2014 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2014 in Queens. Mike Stobe—USTA/Getty Images

He's looking to take down Roger Federer

During the first week of the U.S. Open, I made a point of getting out to Flushing Meadow to watch Gael Monfils play. It’s almost become an annual event for me. And Monfils was once again his entertaining self. There are better players in men’s tennis, to wit, five-time U.S. Open winner Roger Federer, the No. 2 seed who will face Monfils, seeded 20th, in the quarterfinals. But nobody is more fun to watch than this Frenchman, because nobody can combine such pure athleticism with the insouciance bordering on disdain he brings to the game. When I bumped into a USTA staffer I know and told him I’d gone to watch Monfils, there was a shake of the head. “Was he moping around again?” was the question.

Only if moping around means dancing deep across the backcourt and whacking everything he reaches — and he just about reaches everything, with a combination of power and dexterity that his fellow pros openly admire. The 6-ft. 4-in Monfils is a rare combination of pointillist and power—Seurat mounted on coiled springs. In his second round match against Alejandro Gonzalez, Monfils won game two of the second set with a leaping, crosscourt forehand from the right baseline corner that was clocked at 105 mph. Think of Johnny Manziel trying to throw an accurate 75-yard jump pass across his body. Monfils applauded his own work by twirling his index finger as if to say, “oui, that’s me.” Up 3-0 in the third set, he won the fourth game by running down a Gonzalez shot into the corner and hitting a paintbrush backhand down the line that had his opponent shaking his head at the incredible touch on display. Oh, and a decent 130 m.p.h. serve.

Monfils also has the temperament of an artist. He seems like he’s not always paying attention to things like winning. His changeover routine is to mumble while looking over the crowd and to sip from a can of Coke once he’s seated. C’est la vie, eh?

“For me, tennis is a sport, you know. It’s not a job, it’s a sport,” he said in a post-match interview Tuesday, having dispatched rising star Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-6, 7-5 to reach the quarters. He gave a couple of points away to Dimitrov, just because. “Sometime if I’m fed up with that, just leave it. For me, I don’t know if it’s bad to say it and for sure I will use like bad words in English, but it’s like, you know, don’t give a sheet.”

Rare among top pros, Monfils plays without a coach, meaning his strategy seems to be to do whatever. And fellow pros have criticized his game as too laid back when, given his height and speed, he should be attacking more. The don’t-give-a-sheet strategy has generally been good enough to get Monfils deep into Grand Slam tournaments, but never deep enough to win one. His best result: the semis at the French. But finding a coach that fits him hasn’t been easy, he says: “That person has to be — has to be, for me, like good, first of all, but has to be hard and also understand my personality. Because I don’t think I’m easy, but I think I’m quite a good worker.”

Monfils will have to be quite a good worker indeed to beat Federer, who is again looking like the flawless stroke machine that earned 17 major titles. Federer has beaten Monfils three times at Roland Garros, and more recently at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, but lost to him at the ATP Masters in Shanghai last year. Monfils says he is definitely looking forward to the match. Maybe he’ll win, if he gets a little lucky. Maybe not.

“It’s always great,” Monfils said, “because no matter what, I will say to my children, I played against him. Even [if] I kill him, you know. And this is cool.”

TIME Music

Tennis Brings the Goods to “Bad Girls” Video: Premiere

Ritual In Repeat is out Sept. 9 on Communion Records

While the U.S. Open may be underway, music fans are excited about an entirely different kind of tennis. Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, better known as the band Tennis, are about to drop their third album, Ritual in Repeat. Out September 9 on Communion Records, the LP blends catchy classic rock riffs with an indie pop sensibility and a dreamy lo-fi disco sound. Think: Haim’s Days Are Gone or Fleet Foxes covering ABBA.

To craft the album, the husband-and-wife duo reconnected with some of the best producers in rock — the Black Keys’s Patrick Carney, Spoon’s Jim Eno, and The Shins’ Richard Swift. While the band has worked with each of the producers before — Carney produced their 2012 album Young & Old and Eno and Swift worked on their Small Sound EP —this effort sees the band moving from their poppy doo-wop surf rock into slightly harder terrain. Moore told Relix: “It’s been a really long, arduous quest. We’ve been all over the map with the recordings and even our writing. We started off so narrow and only wrote lo-fi surf pop. Everything had a surf-beat. We only had three instruments and everything was so specific that now, as we’ve grown, we are trying to challenge ourselves and transform musically.”

On the heels of singles “I’m Callin'” and “Never Work For Free,” TIME is premiering the video for an acoustic version of their latest track, “Bad Girls.” Watch now, pre-order the album and be sure to catch the band on tour this fall.

Here’s the Ritual in Repeat Tracklist:

1. Night Vision
2. Never Work For Free
3. Needle And A Knife
4. I’m Callin’
5. Bad Girls
6. Timothy
7. Viv Without The N
8. Wounded Heart
9. This Isn’t My Song
10. Solar On The Rise
11. Meter & Line

Tour Dates:

September 18 /// St. Louis, MO /// The Ready Room
September 19 /// Louisville, KY /// Headliners Music Hall
September 20 /// Atlanta, GA /// Terminal West
September 22 /// Orlando, FL /// The Social
September 24 /// Carrboro, NC /// Cat’s Cradle
September 25 /// Washington, DC /// The Black Cat
September 26 /// New York, NY /// Webster Hall
September 27 /// Northampton, MA /// Pearl Street
September 29 /// Cambridge, MA /// The Sinclair
September 30 /// Philadelphia, PA /// Underground Arts
October 2 /// Montreal, Canada /// La Vitrole
October 3 /// Toronto, Canada /// Virgin Mobile Mod Club
October 4 /// Columbus, OH /// A&R Music Bar
October 5 /// Chicago, IL /// Lincoln Hall
October 7 /// Minneapolis, MN /// Fine Line Music Cafe
October 17 /// Salt Lake City, UT /// Urban Lounge
October 18 /// Boise, ID /// Knitting Factory
October 20 /// Seattle, WA /// Neumos
October 21 /// Vancouver, Canada /// Fortune Sound Club
October 22 /// Portland, OR /// Wonder Room
October 24 /// San Francisco, CA /// Great American Music Hall
October 25 /// West Hollywood, CA /// Troubadour
October 26 /// San Diego, CA /// The Casbah
October 29 /// Phoenix, AZ /// The Crescent Ballroom
November 1 /// Austin, TX /// Red 7
November 2 /// Dallas, TX /// The Loft
November 4 /// Lawrence, KS /// Granada Theater
November 5 /// Omaha, NE /// The Waiting Room
November 7 /// Denver, CO /// Bluebird Theater

TIME Innovation

Ralph Lauren Debuts Biometric Shirts at the U.S. Open

Fashion-Wearable Tech
Ralph Lauren's new garment offers smart technology to send heartbeat, respiration, stress levels and other data to tablets and smartphones AP

But don't get excited. You won't be able to buy them until early 2015

Fashion guru Ralph Lauren has sought to morph fashionable sportswear into wearable technology with the launch of the Polo Tech smart shirt, which is being worn by some ball boys at this year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament.

The compression garment comes with technology from a Canadian firm, OMsignal, that feeds detailed information about a wearer’s heart rate, breathing, activity and so on directly to a smartphone or tablet.

Silver-yarn-based sensors gauge athletic performance by measuring the expansion and compression of the wearer’s chest along with electrical changes associated with heart rate. The information is collected in a small black-box-type recorder, which can be removed when the garment needs to be thrown into the washing machine.

While the Polo Tech shirt is making a splash at the U.S. Open, the public won’t be able to purchase it until the spring.

TIME tennis

What It’s Like to Be a U.S. Open Ballperson

Veteran U.S. Open ballboys and ballgirls relive their best and worst moments on the court

Zach Rosenblatt works in investor relations at a hedge fund in New York City. Every summer, he spends his vacation days chasing after tennis balls.

But they’re not just any tennis balls — they’re balls that have bounced off the racquets of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andre Agassi, just to name a few.

Rosenblatt, 28, is entering his 15th year as a U.S. Open ballperson.

He’s just one of hundreds of athletic young men and women who silently crouch on the edges of the courts, retrieving balls, handing players towels, and shielding them from the sun — with umbrellas — during changeovers.

“One thing that I think the public doesn’t understand is that it’s hard on your bodies,” Rosenblatt says. “You start when you’re 14, but I’m 28 — a lot of us are up there, [in our] mid-20s, and it hurts.”

It could be an unexpected missed ball that pegs you in the chest at 117 m.p.h., or Federer (a former ball boy himself) hitting a ball right at you just to test your reflexes — the range of stories, along with potential injuries, are endless.

But there are rewarding moments as well. Laray Fowler, 30, who’s been a ballperson for 16 years, was on the court the moment her favorite player, Kim Clijsters, won her first grand slam in 2005.

After the game, Clijsters found Fowler, who had been working for all her matches leading up to the final, and gave her a hug.

“We started crying a little bit,” Fowler says. “And I told her this was the best moment of my life, and it’s something I would never forget.”

Understandably, there are also stories that ballpersons would rather not repeat to the press about some not-so-nice players. But the general consensus seems to be that the perks make the job well worth it. Says veteran ballperson Nathan Hollins: “It’s just probably the best seat in the house.”

TIME Appreciation

Google Doodle Honors Black Tennis Star Althea Gibson

Gibson was the first African-American to win the U.S. Nationals and Wimbledon tennis championships

Monday’s Google Doodle pays tribute to black tennis star and barrier breaker Althea Gibson, who paved the way for tennis greats including Venus and Serena Williams.

Gibson, who was born on Aug. 25, 1927, was the first black person to take the title at Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals. The Harlem-raised Gibson was also the first African-American named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1957; she won again in 1958.

TIME wrote of Gibson in 1957: “Lean, tall and well-muscled (5 ft. 10½, 144 Ibs.), Althea Gibson is not the most graceful figure on the courts, and her game is not the most stylish. She is apt to flail with more than the usual frenzy, and she often relies on ‘auxiliary shots’ (e.g., the chop and slice). But her tennis has a champion’s unmistakable power and drive.”

Gibson died in October 2003 in East Orange, N.J.

MONEY Kids and Money

What It Costs to Raise a U.S. Open Champion

Serena Williams of the U.S. raises her trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in their women's singles final match at the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York September 8, 2013.
Does your kid want to be the next Serena Williams? Start saving now. Mike Segar—Reuters

Want your kid to win the U.S. Open? Start shelling out $30,000 a year.

Serena Williams won her first U.S. Open at age 17 and her fifth at age 31, just last year. But can she defend her crown against the newest upstarts? It all starts on August 25, when Williams goes head-to-head with rising star Taylor Townsend. And 18-year-old Townsend won’t be the only young talent to watch in Queens: 20-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard is seeded no. 7, and 19-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios will try to build on his surprise upset against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.

If those youthful feats fuel your kid’s dream of tennis stardom, then get ready to open your wallet. In the United States, families of elite tennis players easily spend $30,000 a year so their kids can compete on the national level, says Tim Donovan, founder of Donovan Tennis Strategies, a college recruiting consulting group. That can start as early as age 11 or 12. At the high end, Donovan says, some parents spend $100,000 a year.

On what, you might ask. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Court time. Practice makes perfect, but practice can be expensive, especially if you need to practice indoors in the winter. In Boston, where Donovan is based, court time costs about $45 an hour. In New York City, court time can run over $100 an hour.
  • Training. Figure $4,500 to $5,000 a year for private lessons, plus $7,000 to $8,000 for group lessons—in addition to the aforementioned court fees to practice on your own.
  • Tournaments. National tournament entrance fees run about $150. Plus, you have to travel to get there. Serious players will go to 20 tournaments a year. Donovan estimates that two-thirds of the tournaments might be a few hours away, but elite athletes will need to fly to national events six or seven times a year. Want to bring your coach with you? Add another $300 a day, plus expenses.
  • School. You’ve already racked up $30,000 in bills. But if your kid is really serious, you might also spring for a special tennis academy. Full-time boarding school tuition at Florida’s IMG Academy costs $71,400 a year.

So what’s the return on investment? While most parents don’t expect to see their kids at Wimbledon, many still hope that tennis will open doors when it comes time to apply to college. But the reality is that athletic scholarships are few and far between. In 2011-2012, only 0.8% of undergrads won any kind of athletic scholarship, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com.

Opportunities are particularly limited for boys. Donovan notes that because of Title IX—which requires that schools provide an equal number of scholarships for men and women—a Division I college with a football program might offer eight full tennis scholarships for women, but only half as many for men, because male scholarships need to go to the football players.

Bottom line: If you spend $30,000 a year hoping your tennis star will go to college for free, you’ll probably be disappointed with your ROI.

“Recipients of athletic scholarships graduate with somewhat less debt than other students but not significantly so,” says Kantrowitz. “The main benefit of athletic scholarships is providing access to higher-cost colleges without increasing costs, moreso than reducing the cost of a college education.”

That’s where Donovan comes in: For $3,500 to $10,000, Donovan Tennis Strategies provides different levels of assistance with the college application process. Oftentimes, Donovan’s clients are able to pay full tuition but want additional help leveraging tennis to get their kids into better (and more expensive) schools.

The strategy can pay off. According to Donovan, recruited athletes have a 48% higher chance of admission, sometimes even with SAT scores that are more than 300 points lower than those of non-athletes. “The coach can go in and significantly advocate for somebody and change the outcome,” he says.

So if you’re a parent to a budding tennis star, can you foster his or her talent for less? The IMG Academy does offer scholarships to promising young athletes whose parents can’t pay full freight, and the United States Tennis Association offers some grants and funding. But ultimately, players need to log hours on the court to get good, and that costs money.

“The more you’re playing, the better you’re going to be,” Donovan says. “That’s pretty well documented … and that adds up over time.”

TIME tennis

Men More Likely to Make Dumb Decisions at U.S. Open

Western & Southern Open - Day 9
Roger Federer of Switzerland returns to David Ferrer of Spain during a final match on Day 9 of the Western & Southern Open at the Linder Family Tennis Center in Cincinnati on Aug. 17, 2014 Jonathan Moore—Getty Images

In tennis, men's players embarrass themselves more often than their female counterparts, according to a new study that analyzed data from line-call challenges. The authors chalk up these gender differences to overconfidence, pride and shame

This year’s U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 25, is sure to surprise. The defending men’s champion, Rafael Nadal, has withdrawn from the tournament because of a wrist injury. Does Roger Federer, who won five U.S. Open titles in a row from 2004 to 2008, have one last run in him? Will Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic take his first title since 2011? Will a new player, like Milos Raonic, the 6-ft. 5-in. Canadian big server who’s looked strong in the hard-court tune-ups, break through?

On the women’s side, Serena Williams is the wildest of wild cards. She’s the two-time defending champ and still No. 1 in the world. But she’s been strangely inconsistent this season, and the U.S. Open is her first Grand Slam appearance since Wimbledon, site of her bizarre appearance at a doubles match with her sister. The sport is still buzzing from that incident, in which a dazed Williams couldn’t serve the ball over the net. It was equal parts strange and scary.

This year’s U.S. Open is pretty unpredictable. But if a new academic study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sports Economics, holds serve, this much is guaranteed: the men’s players will embarrass themselves more often than their female counterparts.

The study — conducted by economics professors from Deakin University in Melbourne and Sogang University in Seoul — examined line-call challenge data for 331 professional men’s matches, and 149 women’s matches, from 2006 to 2008. The major finding: as the competition got tighter, men were more likely to screw up. During set tiebreakers, female players were more likely to make the correct challenge call, and men more likely to make an incorrect call. (There’s a risk to making a challenge — if the Hawkeye system shows the ump was correct, you lose a challenge and the potential to correct a future call. In the U.S. Open, players are allotted three challenges, plus one extra during the tiebreak, per set.)

What’s more, during tiebreaks, 34% of men’s challenges are “embarrassing” — defined by the researchers as questioning a correct call when the ball is more than 50 mm off the line. Only 9% of women’s challenges are “embarrassing,” a statistically significant difference. Men are more likely to make these stupid challenges when the ball is on the other side of the court, which is a riskier call since the net impedes their view. The higher a man’s ranking, the more likely he is to make an embarrassing line-call challenge. For women, the opposite holds true: the higher the ranking, the more prudent the decision to challenge a call.

The authors chalk up these gender differences to overconfidence, pride and shame. Men are more prone to cockiness, and think that their perspective is always correct, even when the naked eye can see that a ball is in or out, they say. Men also possess a disproportionate amount of pride. They can’t bear to lose, and are more susceptible to making an irrational attempt to reverse an umpire’s judgment. “It’s an ego thing,” says tennis great Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles.

And if the crowd, and millions watching on television, see them making an embarrassing challenge, men won’t feel as much shame as women. They don’t see the same downside to screwing up. “Guys just don’t care as much about losing challenges,” Navratilova tells TIME. “Women are more concerned about being embarrassed.”

Or, as the authors of the study put it, “at crucial moments of the match, such as tiebreaks … male players try to win at all costs, while female players accept losing more gracefully.”

TIME tennis

Novak Djokovic Denies Roger Federer a (Final?) Wimbledon

Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy after defeating Roger Federer in the men's singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, on July 6, 2014
Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy after defeating Roger Federer in the men's singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, on July 6, 2014 Ben Curtis—AP

The Serbian star played just enough defense to win his second Wimbledon title and regain the world's top ranking

Roger Federer had one of the best service sets of his beautiful career during Sunday’s Wimbledon final. He was tied a set a piece with Novak Djokovic, the top seed of this year’s tournament. On serve, Federer treated Djokovic like a junior: he aced him again and again, 13 in all, to Djokovic’s one. Some games were barely competitive.

Federer still lost that set. And eventually, the match.

A locked-in Djokovic held his own serves in that crucial third set, and took the tiebreaker that put him a set up. Federer, who was seeking a record eighth Wimbledon title, wouldn’t go quietly; he staved off a 5-2 Djokovic lead and a championship point, in a dizzying fourth set to force a fifth. It was the first Wimbledon final to go the distance since Federer won his 2009 classic over Andy Roddick (final score of that fifth set — 16-14).

Djokovic, circa 2008, likely would have wilted after blowing such a golden opportunity. And Federer, as we once knew him, would have finished Djokovic off. But this is a new era: Djokovic reclaimed the world’s top ranking with his close-to-classic 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4 victory over Federer.

The match won’t be remembered like Rafael Nadal’s marathon win over Federer in the 2008 final. Still, it was a gripping match, one of the best finals in recent Grand Slam history. Early on, Federer wasn’t showing his age. He was moving with authority and confusing Djokovic with his tactical approach, sometimes playing a serve-and-volley game, sometimes staying home on the baseline, where his racket was a magic wand putting the ball in at seemingly impossible angles. We’ve seen that Federer at Wimbledon so many times before.

Not that Djokovic didn’t make Federer pay when he approached the net: he hit 14 passing shots for winners, to Federer’s two. Federer served big throughout the match: he had 29 aces, to Djokovic’s 13. But when the ball was in play, Djokovic’s reach and quickness — he hustled so hard, he fell a few times on Wimbledon’s worn grass — enabled him to play just enough defense to wear down Federer, who smacked championship point into the net.

Was this Federer’s last chance at a Slam? He turns 33 in August, and if he was going to steal one more title, it was probably going to be his favorite one, Wimbledon. Federer has 17 Slams, while Rafael Nadal, five years his junior, has 14, including nine at the French Open. Even if Nadal falls short everywhere else but clay, he could eclipse Federer’s record.

But that won’t be easy, thanks to this Djokovic fellow. It’s easy to obsess over the Roger-Rafa title chase, while forgetting that Djokovic is, you know, the best player in the world. Since his monster 2011, when he won every Slam but the French, Djokovic has just won two Australian Opens. Not a bad haul, but coming into this match, he had lost three straight Grand Slam finals, including a four-setter to Nadal in this year’s French. Djokovic is close to breaking through at Roland Garros — winning that title would give him a career Grand Slam.

After the match, an emotional Djokovic announced that he was about to become a father; his future wife is six months pregnant. He called Wimbledon “the best tournament in the world, the most valuable one” and you know something, he’s right: it’s the Masters of tennis, the tournament with the most prestige. His second Wimbledon title is his sweetest, especially after defeating the seven-time champ in five sets. Federer stood by the net, gracious, as Djokovic spoke. The closest, perhaps, he’ll ever get to the Wimbledon trophy again.

TIME

Feel Good Friday: 11 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From giant pandas to rain god rituals, here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

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