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Elliott: Paul Annacone wants to help get American men’s tennis back on the right track




Paul Annacone is uniquely qualified to understand the disappointing absence of American men from the upper echelons of the men’s tennis rankings and to recognize that the way to help players realize their potential is by starting a wide-ranging collaboration at the local level.

Annacone, who peaked in singles at No. 12 in the world in 1986 and won the Australian Open men’s doubles title in 1985 with Christo van Rensburg, coached Grand Slam singles champions Pete Sampras and Roger Federer and now teams up with Taylor Fritz from Rancho Palos Verdes. Fritz, 23, did well to reach the third round of this year’s Australian Open, where he lost in five sets to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

The only American man to make it to the second week was Mackenzie McDonald, who won the 2016 NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships at UCLA. McDonald lost his match in the fourth round to No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev in straight sets, continuing the futility of the American men in major events. American women are thriving, but no American man has won a Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick triumphed at the 2003 US Open.

When I got off my dinosaur and played in the dark ages, I came by just when John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were finished. So I had to turn 12 in the world, and while I thought that was great for me, that’s not really what the US is looking for, Annacone said in a recent phone call.

We were looking for the legends. We are spoiled for choice [Andre] Agassis, Samprases, Jim Couriers, Michael Chang. Connors. McEnroe. We’ve had so many. Then we had Andy Roddick come over and become the world’s number 1. I think it is a very challenging environment right now, but that expectation also hangs over the young American men and the young American ladies.

Annacone, who worked in player development for the US Tennis Assn. as well as the Lawn Tennis Assn. in England and Tennis Australia, will have the opportunity to improve the environment for young players here as a new member of the player development staff of the Southern California section of the US Tennis Assn. He will team up with Trevor Kronemann, the director of junior tennis for the USTA Southern California, and Scott Lipsky, who played at Stanford and won a mixed doubles title at the 2011 French Open.

Annacone envisions creating a clearinghouse for players and coaches and, as COVID-19 allows, launching a college combination, holding clinics for promising young players aged 12 and under and bringing together coaches to develop their to pool knowledge. He enjoys conducting programs and clinics at clubs all over Southern California.

The talent is out there. And the popularity of sport has survived pandemic limitations, likely because tennis is inherently socially detached. According to a study conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys and published in the Physical Activity Councils Participation Report, tennis participation increased by 22% in 2020.

Paul Annacone throws his arms in jubilation after knocking out John McEnroe.

Paul Annacone celebrates after defeating John McEnroe in the first round of the US Open in New York on August 26, 1986. Annacone won 1-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

(Susan Ragan / Associated Press)

Southern California has historically had the best players in the United States and some of the best players in the world, and they still do, Annacone said. Everyone is looking for the holy grail, but it isn’t really there. It is hard work.

Since he worked for eight years with Sampras and four years with Federer, he was often approached by parents who said they wanted their children to be the next Sampras or Federer. That is unlikely.

The idea is to take over their habits, Annacone said. What is Roger doing so well? Forget about winning matches. What program could he be successful with? What is the Sampras Program? What has Serena [Williams] done? Take the program that maximizes these skills and then connect the attributes that are relevant to the players doing the here and now. You’re not going to suddenly make them as gifted as Roger or Serena, but there are many similarities in the way they train and what they do, allowing all of these players to maximize their skills.

For players like McDonald and former UCLA standout Jennifer Brady who reached the US Open semi-finals last year and beat Jessica Pegula in the Australian Open on Wednesday to advance to the semi-finals, tennis has been a formative experience and a solid springboard to a professional career. For others, college tennis will be as far as they go. Annacone wants to help them too.

There is no one way to be a professional player, he said. And even if kids aren’t going to become professionals, I feel like it’s a really healthy environment and a really great resource for the SCTA staff to be able to say, here’s here for Sally or Johnny. Theyre currently ranked 18th in the section. They are 15 years old. Here are some ideas on how and where to play, and then try educating parents and children about pathways and scholarships, where the right programs are, where the right courses are. So I think it’s a pretty broad theme, about just being a resource that helps the kids maximize their talent whatever that level.

Most of his work is still in the planning process. With the COVID-19 vaccine becoming more widely available and health regulations loosening, he hopes to be able to hold age camps in the coming months and host the college combination in June. After living through 2020, we were in challenging times, and I think anyone who will be successful in these challenging times but better be flexible is better able to run, he said, and that’s what we are now. tried to do. It’s gonna take a while.

In the absence of a holy grail, a solid and realistic plan seems the best course.

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