Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stanford product to head USTA player development

   The USTA's board of directors apparently likes former Stanford players.
   The federation on Monday named Martin Blackman to succeed his former Stanford doubles partner, Patrick McEnroe, as general manager of player development.
   McEnroe, 48, announced in September that he was leaving the job after 6 1/2 years. The lifelong New Yorker said he did not want to move to Orlando, Fla., where the USTA is building a $60 million tennis center.
   The USTA has been heavily criticized because of the nation's struggles in professional men's singles. The highest-ranked U.S. man is John Isner at No. 19, no American man has reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal since 2012, and none has won a major singles title since Andy Roddick in the 2003 U.S. Open.
  However, Americans Serena Williams and Bob and Mike Bryan are widely considered the greatest female player and men's doubles team in history, respectively. Also, Venus Williams won seven Grand Slam singles crowns before she was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease in 2011.
   The Bryans' illustrious career rarely is mentioned in discussions of the state of U.S. tennis because top singles players almost never play doubles and, not coincidentally, doubles typically does not appear on television.
   The Bryans, who will turn 37 on April 29, led Stanford to NCAA team titles in each of their two years on the Farm (1997 and 1998) before turning pro.
   The future appears bright for the United States.
   On the women's side, Madison Keys reached the semifinals of this year's Australian Open shortly before turning 20, and Sloane Stephens, 22, climbed to No. 11 in the world in 2013 before slumping.
   Meanwhile, 22-year-old Jack Sock is ranked 46th in singles and has won two Grand Slam doubles titles (Wimbledon men's last year with Vasek Pospisil of Canada and U.S. Open mixed with countrywoman Melanie Oudin in 2011). 
   In the world junior rankings, the United States has four of the top 11 boys (No. 4 Taylor Fritz, No. 5 Stefan Kozlov, No. 7 Michael Mmoh and No. 11 William Blumberg) and three of the top 11 girls (No. 2 CiCi Bellis, No. 7 Usue Arconada and No. 11 Sofia Kenin).
   Also considered top boys prospects are Jared Donaldson, 18, and Frances Tiafoe, 17.
   ''It's a question of windows," Blackman, a 45-year-old African-American, said on a conference call. "So we were blessed with Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Wheaton, Chang, and then with Roddick, Fish and Blake. We've been blessed with Serena and Venus.
   "But now the role of the federation in facilitating the development of a world-class player is much greater. That's why we opened the window six years ago when Patrick was hired, and we're starting to see the fruit right now.''
   As a junior, Blackman trained with Andre Agassi and Jim Courier at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Bradenton, Fla. Blackman won the USTA boys 16s national title and played on two NCAA championship teams at Stanford.
   Blackman played professionally from 1989 to 1995, reaching a career-high No. 158 in the world in 1994. He was the head coach at American University in Washington, D.C., from 1998 to 2004 and director of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., for the following five years, helping develop Alison Riske, Denis Kudla and Tiafoe.
   Riske is ranked No. 45. Kudla is No. 149 after reaching a career-high No. 90 in 2013.      
  After serving as the USTA's senior director of talent identification and development from 2009 to 2011, Blackman left to open a tennis academy in Boca Raton, Fla.
   ''We have to be flexible in the way that we relate to players, parents and coaches,'' said Blackman, who holds an economics degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. ''It's not a 'one size fits all' solution. The way the game is going, the resources that are needed to develop a top player, it's very difficult to do that without some support from the federation.''

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