Is Tennis Dying in the US? Part 1

 

A couple of weeks ago, a strong junior player asked me, “Don’t you think tennis is a dying sport in the US?”

My first reaction was to think no followed by I hope not.   I didn’t vocalize either of those views though.  I tried to think about things as this is a complicated question.  The health of Tennis in the US is not measured by a single metric.  I will offer my non-authoritative observations about tennis in the US in part 1 and then look at some ways tennis could improve its standing in the US in future parts of this series.

My Observations

The Good

  • Adult tennis leagues seem to be in good shape as tennis is a game for life in a country that is facing increasing weight-related health problems.
  • 10 and Under Tennis, Quick Start Tennis, and contemporary racquets/strings make hitting a tennis ball well an easier skill to acquire.  Tennis is great fun once someone hits a certain minimal skill level.  Prior to that skill level being attained tennis is a mess of missed shots and chasing tennis balls between rallies/points.  It is now easier than ever to get to that basic skill level.

The Bad

  • Fewer pro tournaments exist in the US.  John and Patrick McEnroe contested the final of an event in Chicago.  Today, the Windy City has the Laver Cup coming, but no annual event on either tour.  Philadelphia is the 5th largest city in the US and once had a really nice event.  Indianapolis had an event that declined when it lost its key sponsor.  Indy went away after 2009.  Las Vegas, Memphis, and Louisville among other cities had events at some point in the open era that are now defunct.  To add insult to injury the Memphis ATP date moved to New York.  The Big Apple once boasted the US Open as well as a clay court tune-up before Roland Garros at Forest Hills.  It again has two events but gaining another event by taking over the week of a tournament in the Midsouth makes little sense for tennis’ overall health in the US.
  • Junior tennis has changed in the decades since I played.  Excellent players and novices are still excellent and/or novices today, but the number of solid midlevel players competing in Kentucky junior events has declined.  That does not bode well for tennis’ health (at least in my section of the US).
  • I think more people playing tennis leads to more people watching tennis (and understanding what they are watching at a deeper level).  Even if levels of participation are not bad, fewer young people playing bodes poorly for the sport’s position in the US psyche.

The Ugly

  • Many courts at public parks are in deep disrepair.
  • Minor League US Soccer is pulling strong support in cities like Louisville and Cincinnati’s franchise has had such fan support that the MLS bumped them up to the US version of Major League Soccer.  I don’t begrudge another sport growing, but tennis’ failure to grow in the US is put into greater relief by stories such as these.

I will explore these observations in greater detail in future installments of this series.

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