James Blake wants the USTA player development boss job

The retired American player says he’s done it all – bad junior, good junior, college player, Futures grinder, Challengers struggler, and top five in the world.

Three recent American stars – James Blake, Andy Roddick and Jim Courier – were on a conference call Tuesday to promote the 12-city PowerShares barnstorming tour, the last stop of which is Vancouver on May 2.

And beyond the questions about the seniors tour and its various stops, these wise old tennis sould weighed in on a lot of other interesting topics.

The most interesting, on the American side, is that James Blake has serious interest in the USTA player development boss job recently vacated by Patrick McEnroe.

Worth noting that McEnroe was paid nearly a million bucks a year to do this job, which is a lotta shekels.

“I think there are things falling through the cracks that could be done better with the USTA.  I would love to fill those in and give my experience of what I did right on tour, what I did wrong on tour, what can help guys,” Blake said. “I do think I have hopefully a good perspective on what needs to be done to help a lot of players.  I would love that opportunity.  That’s why I did throw my hat in the ring as a possible candidate.  I’m going through the process of hearing what they’re looking for and what the deciding factors are. If it doesn’t come down to me, I’m not the best fit for them.”

Blake had the full and unconditional support of Roddick.

“I’ve been reading things here and there.  But I will say if James has any interest on a bigger level as far as coaching, in the development job that’s open, I think it’s a no‑brainer.  He’s recently on tour.  I hope that happens, selfishly,” Roddick said. “That next person should connect the dots between generations and really reach out, kind of tap into the knowledge base that we have here in this country.  I think that’s important.”

Roddick at the U.S. Open, with McEnroe and Ryan Harrison.

Roddick at the U.S. Open, with McEnroe and Ryan Harrison.

Roddick told a story that illustrated some of the disconnect the big machine that is the USTA can have with actual real life.

“When I retired, I made it known to the powers that be at the USTA if they ever had any kids they wanted to send to Austin for a week, with their coaches, I’m happy to hit in, hit balls, share what I know.  I didn’t want any money for it.  Whatever it was.  I was never taken up on that offer.  Wanting to help and forcing yourself on a situation are two different things,” he said.


That story reminded us of one we heard way back, after the king of the previous generation, Pete Sampras, retired. The way we heard it was that after he was made an offer by the USTA to do some work, his answer was, “Add another zero.”

Here’s what Sampras said about this, just four years ago.

“I talked to the USTA about trying to help out a little bit. We’re sort of on different pages with that.  If I’m going to do some things, I want to be compensated … I’m into helping some kids, helping some young juniors or pros.  I mean, I do know what I’m doing out there.  I talked to Pat McEnroe a few times, [but] he’s just on a different page,” Sampras said. “I have time on my hands.  If the USTA wants to step up a little bit, I’ll make a champion … I’m available for services.  And when the phone doesn’t ring, I know it’s them. It’s not about the money … I’m not asking for the moon here.  It’s just the principle and the way I operate.  I’m willing to give back if it works for me.”

Well, okay then.

Blake said he, too, was willing to do like Roddick and do his part. “I also feel like I need to pay it forward.  In the next few years when I’m still a viable option to hit tennis balls with the younger players, if they want to come and hit and hear what I have to say about their games, do whatever I can, I’m happy to do those kind of things as well,” Blake said. “If I am the next person to be hired, if I got that offer from Andy Roddick, if I got that offer, I’d take him up on it.”

Little known during this trendy period where “supercoaches” have become the thing is the fact that Blake has acted as a mentor to rising young American Jack Sock, arguably the most talented of the next generation coming up. Blake himself didn’t bring it up on the conference call; Courier did.

“I help with some of the big picture-type things, keep the mindset the right way, make sure he gives his opponents enough respect.  I think that’s something a lot of younger players overlook.  Keep his mind in the right place,” Blake said. “I have been able to help him hopefully with some scouting reports since I am recently off tour.  Some of the guys he’s playing I played, too.”

Courier, the Davis Cup captain, added that all of them were involved to a far greater extent than the media and fans probably know about, which was just fine with them.

Jim Courier_new

It appears that the USTA can count on that successful group of ex-players to help out on the men’s side. And that’s a tremendous luxury to have.

Would Blake be the right man for the job? Well, that’s a tougher one. While McEnroe’s playing career (at least on the singles side) wasn’t quite as lustrous as Blake’s, he did come into it with some of the same background. But he lacked the overall management skills and experience to keep this big operation well-oiled,  having to learn and make his mistakes on the job while still stepping delicately through the minefield of his other well-remunerated responsibilities, including as a commentator on ESPN.

Clearly these players think some things fell through the cracks during the McEnroe era. Blake seems to bring some of the same positives to the table as McEnroe did (although he was never Davis Cup captain), and many of the same “negatives”, so to speak. At a million a year, and given how galvanizing opinion through the U.S. game was during McEnroe’s tenure, you don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

Then again, who is the right person for that job, exactly? A lifetime administrator, a bean-counter, someone who hasn’t played the game at a top level – or any level – but knows how to manage all the various and sundry committees and things that an organization like the USTA has, and make nice with the Board of Director-type folks, using all the buzzwords they love to hear? That’s probably not the visionary call, either.

Courier is probably the guy: he has the playing experience, the Davis Cup experience – and the business experience gained since his retirement. And given he was not the biggest talent out there, but got right to the top, he has a pretty good idea of the price that has to be paid – and, quite likely, as smart as he is, the ability to sense whether a young player has that same idea.

But he probably doesn’t want the hassle.

We’d like to announce right here that we’re also available for the job, and quite willing to cut McEnroe’s pay by … two-thirds, so the rest can be used to help develop the next generation of American champions. 🙂

The Powershares Tour stops in Vancouver May 2, players to be determined (but could include Sampras and John McEnroe). Tickets are already on sale here, ranging from $45 to $315.


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5 thoughts on “James Blake wants the USTA player development boss job

  1. Regardless who is tapped for this position… the decision making process must be trimmed down. We need a doer not a figure head. That is not a criticism of the past; simply an informed observation. This position must not be handcuffed by committee rule. Such a individual could bring back greatness in American tennis. Their are so many issues that must be addressed and to many fingers in the pie.

    The destruction of the national tennis schedule has greatly reduced the number of players in the sport. While competitive junior tennis will never be cheap, we can maximize opportunities by bringing back the three developmental tracks of Sectional/National and international play. By doing so players can operate at the level that fits them best…economy of effort. All of the candidates listed here could do a great job; but to do so they would have to be strong and eliminate silly committee rule…..easier said than done.

  2. i have 2 boys and 2 girls ( 12,14 twin, 16 in junior tennis each time travel for 4 kids on family is a budget issue and the way we have to chase after points just so the kids can be on national selection list someday is crazy. I have totally lost confident with usta !

  3. I have been struggle for many years as all of my daughters all had great potential to play for D1 and turn pro but usta made thing so complicate so difficult so costly for a single mom low income family trying to pursue my kids dream in tennis. We need more open high level national WTA ITF in Southern Cal. Travel and coaching too expensive sometime we have to cut down on good food just to keep up with tournaments fees hotel travel ect… So. Cal section is a very large section with small amount of endorsement given and rich families can affort to travel to buy points and expensive coaches while lower income families such as single parent families can not give up work to travel distance with hotel air tickets & hitting coaches suffering damage our junior dreams. So sad with usta PD position all you want is a high big $$ paying job but in reality you don’t really care about true development of future Champion!’

  4. @James Blake – When you get this job, please come down to the level of the parents who are key in understanding what it takes for a junior to become a World Class Champion. My son just turned 17 and looking back, I made lots of developmental mistakes. From choosing his Academy to entering him in the right tournaments. I did not go to the College of USTA where the ever changing rules and regulations hinder those that don’t end up on their Sections Endorsement list for a major tournament that could change the path of their development for the better. It ‘s sad when it comes down to players “chasing points” to be able to compete. This entire experience should not be this difficult. It’s disheartening to say the least.
    @Andy Roddick – My son is 17 and one of the top players in the Southern Section of USTA (GA). He would travel to Austin, TX to hit with you ANY time you are available if your offer is still available! atldeltagirl@gmail.com
    Nicole Jennings

  5. I would first like to throw my hat in the ring for the #1 job as Director of player development for the USTA. The past players wishing to be selected for this position were all of privilege and played at levels that excluded many players of immense talent through exclusion. There could not be a better choice if I was given this opportunity to build player development from elite to hungry low income potential superstars. This is something that none of the other hopefuls can bring along with so much more that would impact tennis in the world for the future.

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