Published in Florida Tennis Magazine
The Spanish Tennis Diaspora and the Rebirth of American Tennis
If you haven't noticed recently--American tennis is back!
With more Americans age 23 or younger in the top 300 than any other nation, and 11 men and 13 women in the top 100 at last check, American tennis is on the rise again.
From my perspective, I see a direct correlation between this rise and the improvements at USTA Player Development. From a coaching and training perspective, Jose Higueras' influence has been significant, revamping the USTA's coaching philosophy and training system, and advocating for a common language and coaching parameters around the country for both national and private coaches alike.
I have frequently commented about the spread of Spanish expert coaches and former players around the world to assist other countries in their development. Emilio Sanchez, Jose Higueras, and Rafael Font de Mora to the US, Felix Mantilla to Australia, and Lluis Bruguera to Turkey are just a few examples of many. In addition, Spanish academies are developing outposts in other nations to spread their style of training. Sanchez-Casal, Bruguera, and Juan Carlos Ferrero are exploring opportunites in China, for example. In the US, Sanchez-Casal has an academy in Naples, and iTUSA in Arizona.
Furthermore, myriad foreign players are developing their games in Spain and other countries often use Spain as a developmental tool, by sending teams to train there. The USTA sends teams to train at BTT in Barcelona, the LTA sends teams to La Manga, Turkey had a training relationship with Bruguera, etc.
This is a dramatic change from the early 1990's when the methods in Spain were relatively esoteric, before the rise of numerous commercial Spanish academies and the grand diaspora of Spanish expert coaches and former top players. And before Spain was a hot destination for juniors and foreign pros.
During that time, players like Andy Murray, Marat Safin, and his sister Dinara Safina were trendsetters, moving to Spain as teenagers to develop their world-class games.
Today, that kind of migration is common. Spanish tennis is in the mainstream. Spanish coaches are training players from around the world in Spain, such as Khachanov and Rublev at 4Slam, Zverev at JC Ferrero Equelite, Muguruza recently at Bruguera, Joao Sousa at BTT, and Taro Daniel at Lozano-Altur, to name a few. Furthermore there are literally dozens of former pro players from Spain traveling the circuit and coaching players from various nations.
As a student of the Spanish tennis style and history, it is interesting for me to observe the rise of individual foreign players and nations themselves, influenced by Spanish expert coaches, while at the same time watching the fall of Spain's dominance on the world stage in terms of the number of native born Spanish players.
In many ways, Spain is a victim of its own incredible success with many players and countries emulating the best practices from Spain and finding success using the Spanish method.
No country exemplifies this more than the US. After 8 years under the influence of Spanish legend Jose Higueras, the dramatic rise in dominance of American players is undeniable. While there are other factors contributing to American success, it is foolish to discount the effect Jose has had on the USTA teaching philosophy and coaching methodology across the country, including with private coaches.
At last count, Spain had only 7 players in the ATP 100--half of the number it had in the glory days of the past decades. Moreover, 4 of the 7 Spanish players are over 30 and will retire soon. While there are some young men with potential coming up like Carlos Taberner and Nicola Kuhn, there doesn't seem to be enough for a wave of dominace as in past years.
The US, by contrast, has 11 players in the ATP 100 and is poised for dramatic gains. Of the 11 players in the top 100, only one is over age 30, John Isner. The women's side is even more incredible with 13 in the top 100, many very young in age, and a tremendous wave of young talent coming up at the lower levels.
The future of American tennis--especially for the women--is very bright indeed. And there is a subtle irony that this great American rebirth has been influenced by the vision and expertise of a Spanish coach.