February 23, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

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.

Roddick-Raonic_new

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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