October 1, 2016

Approach Shots – Q & A with USTA Player Development GM Martin Blackman

Martin Blackman photo courtesy of the USTA

Martin Blackman photo courtesy of the USTA

 

 

(September 9, 2016) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Tennis Panorama News sat down with the General Manager of Player Development at the United States Tennis Association, Martin Blackman, to ask a few questions about his goals for Player Development.

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News (TPN): I’d like to know how became involved in tennis in the first place?

Martin Blackman (MB): I was born in New York, while my dad was going to Columbia University. When I was two-years-old, we moved to Barbados, that’s where my father’s from and I had two older twin brothers who played tennis. They were very good players. So they basically coached me, when I was a kid in Barbados from 2-13.

When I was eleven, we started coming over to New York for the summers and I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to the Port Washington Tennis Academy. So I trained at Port in the summers, when I was 11 and 12, I was still living in Barbados.

When I was 12-years-old, I lost in the finals of the Orange Bowl and Nick Bollettieri offered me a scholarship to his academy. So I went to high school at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy from 13-17. And then I played at Stanford for two years – two NCAA championship teams. Had the pleasure of playing doubles with Patrick (McEnroe) my freshman year so we became great friends and then I played on the (ATP World) tour for six years.

Coming off the tour I finished my degree at GW (George Washington University). I thought I wanted to get out of tennis, but a head coaching position opened at American University, and was able to get tuition remission. I was doing graduate work so I took that job as head coach and I fell in love with coaching.

I’ve had three jobs – American University for five years – loved it. Had success there, really learned what it meant to be a coach and be a mentor of young men.

Then I ran the program at the Junior Tennis Champions Center at College Park (Maryland), a program that produced Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla.

Then I went to work for Patrick in Player Development as the Director of Player ID and Development. Then I left for three years to run my own tennis academy and then I’ve been back in Player Development as a GM for 16 months.

 

TPN: You played with Patrick McEnroe and you succeeded him in Player Development. That’s a big name to follow. When you came in, what were you looking at, at first and what challenges coming in did you see or do you still see and how are you tackling them?

MB: Well I think the benefit of having worked in Player Development before, was that I really understood how our division worked. I really understood how our coaches and performance staff and admin staff were doing on a day-to-day basis, so I understood the operations and I wanted to make sure that I provided continuity in the areas that were working already.

The two biggest most impactful things that Patrick did were one – to bring in Jose Higueras as our Director of Coaching and to really create a comprehensive teaching and coaching philosophy in collaboration with the private sector. I think that has really unified the country, not in a cookie cutter prescriptive approach to training players, but in a framework that kind of unifies us in terms of how we see the game, how we train players and how we talk about the game.

And the second is the Team USA initiative that started under Patrick about four years ago where we made a concerted effort to reach out to the private sector, be more collaborative, be more inclusive. Making sure that all of the information was going through private coaches and really build and strengthen that trust with private sector coaches who are the ones doing the work in the trenches with those young players.

So, when I came in, I definitely saw those two things as working, but I also saw some opportunities to invest more in areas where there is a need. So a few of the things that we did, one is we had a need to support our best players between 100 and 300. Those young pros just coming out, they’re doing well, can’t afford to travel with a full team and we know from doing studies that the faster a player breaks into the Top 100, the more likely they are to go farther to become a Top 50 or Top 20 player. So we created Team USA Pro Department, that provides supplemental support for all of our American pros between 100-300 and that’s been really successful.

Tom Gullickson on the men’s side, and Kathy Rinaldi on the women’s side, supported by Jeff Russell, have done a great job of helping those players to move a little bit faster, giving them support on the road.

The other thing that we’ve done is that we’ve really increased our investment financially and from a human resources perspective in college tennis. That was an area, obviously, you look at our rankings, you look at John Isner and Steve Johnson. They’re our top two Americans, both went to college for four years. We’ve got Nicole Gibbs, Irina Falconi, Jennifer Brady doing well. So that was an area where we really weren’t investing a lot. I think we were a little too focused on the players who could turn pro coming out of high school and I saw that as an opportunity that we needed to capitalize on.

So those are two moves that I made to capitalize on opportunities to help more players and to help them progress a little bit faster and make sure those college players are getting the emotional support as they go into college, and making sure that we are totally engaged with college coaches to help with the developmental process.

 

TPN: In years past really good juniors would go straight into the pro ranks. You see a lot of them now thinking about going to college, because you see with both the men and the women, they’re older when they make an impact in majors it seems.

MB: Absolutely. I think there are two factors – one, the physical demands of the game have increased so much. The game is so much more physical, so it’s hard for a girl or a boy to compete with women and men. The other piece of it is that players are taking such good care of their bodies. Their nutrition, they are traveling with a physio. They’re stretching more than they ever have been.

The average age of the Top 100 player has gone up, I think it’s about 28 and 1/2 on the men’s side and almost 25 on the women’s side. If we had said that 20 years ago, people would have thought that you were crazy, but those two factors, the physical demands of the game and the fact that players are taking really good care of their bodies are contributing to that. So that’s why I think you don’t see as many junior players bursting on to the tour the way we did in the 80’s and early 90’s.

 

TPN: Speaking of groups of “kids” as it were, its seems that on the men’s side, like the Tiafoes and the Taylor Fritzes are coming up together. I guess we haven’t seen that since, I don’t know Agassi, Sampras and Courier? Some of them are down in Florida. There must be a lot of camaraderie down there with them all coming up together.

MB: The great thing about this group of boys is that, there is a lot of camaraderie, there is a lot of positive peer pressure. You know, Reilly (Opelka) will have a good week and Taylor will have a good week, Frances will have a good week and that’s really the type of dynamic we want to see. We want to see a group of boys, a group of women, coming up together, pushing themselves.

And the other great thing is when the younger players play our established older players that really creates a lot of positive pressure as well. So when one of that group you mentioned plays Stevie (Johnson) or Sam (Querrey) or Donald (Young), they really, really want to win. The older guys want to win. They don’t want to lose to one of these young guys and the younger guys really want to make a breakthrough and beat one of those established guys and that’s a very healthy dynamic.

We’re seeing that on the women’s side as well. The women were a little bit ahead demographically. After this tournament we’ll have 15 women in the Top 100. We’ve got Madison (Keys) playing really well. We’ve got Christina McHale playing well. Sloane (Stephens) when she is healthy, will be back doing well. CoCo Vandeweghe has such a big game. Shelby Rogers breaking through at the French. Louisa Chirico. So all of these women, I think are really poised to get to the next level. And luckily we have two amazing champions in Serena and Venus (Williams) to really set the bar where it needs to be, right at the top.

 

TPN: The announcement from the other day about the Adidas partnership, how long was that in the making? Was it something that you prioritized? Reaching into the private sector as you mentioned before, was this a big goal for you, or was it something that you thought about before coming in?

MB: Coming in my first month, our Sponsorship department on the pro side told me that this was a partnership they had been looking to form, if they could find the right partner and design a deal with the right parameters. So I gave my input as it related to what would be beneficial to player development. I didn’t give my input specifically, it needs to be Adidas or it needs to be Nike, but just in terms of what would really help Player Development and then Lew Sherr (USTA Chief Revenue Officer) kind of reached out in the market place. Spoke to a lot of big companies and at the end of the day it was Adidas that wanted to make the direct investment, not just in Player Development, which is going to be very beneficial to us, but also in our junior competitive national tournaments, in the national campus, in leagues.

Again, as I said during the press conference, it’s really encouraging to see a global leader in our industry making a direct investment back into the game.

 

TPN: A lot has been done, what more do you want to do? What’s on your wish list for Player Development?

MB: If I kind of take a step back, I think what are the two big things that Player Development does or should do. I think on the one side, it’s to create really strong relationships with our players, parents and coaches across the board, from juniors all the way through to the pros.

On the other side it’s to make sure that the expertise and the performance support that we give to those players as a result of those strong relationships, is the best in the world. So there is a performance excellence component and there’s a relationship component and if you don’t have both of them, you are not going to be effective. Because it doesn’t matter how much you know or how good you are at what you do, if you don’t have relationships and trust with the players.

So we have to invest in both of those things and if we get it right, we have an unbelievable opportunity at the national campus in Orlando. And if we get both of those things right, you are going to see the resurgence of American tennis.

 

Related Articles:

USTA and ADIDAS Announce Partnership To Support US Tennis On Multiple Levels

Martin Blackman Named General Manager, USTA Player Development

 

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USTA and ADIDAS Announce Partnership To Support US Tennis On Multiple Levels

 

ustaadidas

From the USTA: Overarching Multi-Year Agreement Makes adidas the Official Partner

of USTA Player Development and Sponsor of the newly named

USTA adidas National Junior Championship Series

 

Partnership includes a Prominent Presence at the USTA National Campus,

the Home of American Tennis

 

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., September 1, 2016 – The USTA and adidas today announced a multi-year agreement which will impact the future of American tennis through a number of key initiatives and programs. As part of this newly forged, expansive partnership, adidas will become an official sponsor of the USTA National Campus, USTA Player Development, and USTA League Tennis.  In addition, it will become the exclusive presenting sponsor of the USTA National Junior Rankings and newly named “USTA adidas Junior Championship Series,” comprised of five, L1 individual 16 & Under and 18 & Under junior tournaments that feature some of the top junior tennis players in the country.

 

adidas will have a strong presence throughout the USTA National Campus, the home of American tennis in Orlando, Fla. They will receive naming rights to, and have an extensive branding presence throughout, the “adidas Performance Center” which will serve as home to the USTA’s Player Development (USTA PD) division, which is tasked with developing the next generation of American champions.  adidas will also become the official outfitter and apparel partner for USTA PD, outfitting the coaching staff in adidas gear. They will also have a strong retail presence within the pro-shop of the USTA National Campus.

 

“We are very excited about partnering with the USTA,” said David Malinowski, Senior Director adidas Tennis US. “The USTA’s commitment to the player development program aligns with our mission as a brand and we are focused on helping make the next generation of athletes better from the grassroots level on up.”

 

adidas Tennis is dedicated to supporting grassroots programs, and this partnership allows the brand to be even more connected to some of the best young tennis players in the United States. As presenting sponsor of the adidas Easter Bowl tournament and the “USTA adidas Junior Championship Series,” adidas will be supporting some of the most prestigious junior tournaments throughout the U.S. The Series will consist of the following 16 & Under and 18 & Under national junior events:

  • adidas Easter Bowl
  • Boys’ National Hard Court Championships (Kalamazoo)
  • Girls’ National Hard Court Championships (San Diego)
  • Boys’ National Clay Court Championships
  • Girls’ National Clay Court Championships
  • Boys’ National Winter Championships
  • Girls’ National Winter Championships
  • Boys’ Indoor Nationals
  • Girls’ Indoor Nationals

“It’s incredibly exciting to have adidas coming on board to support ‘Team USA’ at both the USTA National Campus and at our top national junior competitions every year,” said USTA Player Development General Manager Martin Blackman. “The success of our sport depends on the success of the international tennis industry as a whole. We are fortunate that our game is supported by world class brands that produce tennis racquets, tennis balls, apparel and footwear. We are committed to working collaboratively with the entire industry to make sure that tennis players of every level and age have access to the equipment and sportswear that they want and need, to be able to enjoy the game. Our partnership with a global leader like adidas will enable our Player Development Team to reflect the look and professionalism that exemplifies Team USA. The partnership supports our Mission; to maximize the potential of every American player to ensure a successful future for American tennis.”

 

The partnership will also impact many of America’s most passionate adult players, as competitors in the USTA League program, the country’s largest recreational tennis league with more than 800,000 participants nationwide, will have the opportunity to take advantage of a new team uniform program beginning in 2017.

 

Beginning in 2016, adidas will have a dedicated retail location at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. The store will carry the latest adidas Tennis apparel and will be open exclusively during the US Open tournament.

 

“This close partnership will prove tremendously beneficial for both the USTA and adidas,” said USTA Chief Revenue Officer Lew Sherr. “The USTA will have one of the leading brands in performance apparel supporting American tennis, and adidas will gain an increased foothold in both the high-performance and recreational tennis communities, while at the same time investing in the vitality of the future of the game in America.”

 

More to follow….

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Ivan Lendl, Mardy Fish and Jill Craybas to Coach with USTA Player Development

Ivan Lendl ©TennisPanorama

Ivan Lendl ©TennisPanorama

From the USTA: (November 10, 2015) – The USTA today announced that eight-time Grand Slam singles champion Ivan Lendl, former world No. 7 Mardy Fish, and former American Olympian Jill Craybas will begin coaching with USTA Player Development as part of its strategy to involve former champions and top American players in the development of current American pros and juniors.

 

Lendl, Fish and Craybas will work with USTA Player Development on a part-time basis beginning this fall and winter. Lendl began working with a group of top 15- and 16-year old boys at a training camp held last week at Windsor in Vero Beach, Fla., and will continue working with the group through several USTA Pro Circuit and junior tournaments in November and December, and into next year. Fish will help lead several weeks of offseason training at the USTA Training Center – West in Carson, Calif., with a group of professional men. Craybas will begin working with a group of pro women during their offseason training at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla.

 

The coaching partnerships are initial steps in USTA Player Development’s effort to be more deliberate in engaging past champions and former American professionals as coaches, advisors or mentors. In addition to Lendl, Fish and Craybas, USTA Player Development has also worked with or is planning to work with other former and current American pros, including Michael Russell, Brian Baker, Marianne Werdel and Ann Grossman-Wunderlich, among several others.

 

“We have done this on an informal basis – Andy Roddick, Jim Courier and Billie-Jean King, most notably, have been very generous with their time and willingness to work with our young pros – but we need to be more intentional about our outreach to former champions and top professionals,” said USTA Player Development General Manager Martin Blackman. “They have been in the second week of a Grand Slam or even hoisted the trophy on that final Sunday, and that is invaluable. We need to cultivate a culture that is characterized by a champion’s mindset, and when one of our young women or men spends time with a former champion, it creates a cultural connection that cannot be over-estimated.

 

“We are just in the beginning stages of our outreach, and there are American champions that we have not yet connected with, but so far the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

 

Lendl, 55, is a former world No. 1 who won three US Open, three French Open and two Australian Open titles from 1984-90, and his 94 ATP World Tour titles rank second all-time. From 2012 to early 2014, Lendl coached Andy Murray to his first two Grand Slam singles titles, at the 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon. Fish, 33, climbed to No. 7 in the world in 2011 and won six ATP World Tour titles in his career. He retired following a second-round finish at the 2015 US Open. Midway through his career, Fish committed to a disciplined approach to his conditioning and nutrition, which resulted in his best achievements and career-high ranking. Craybas, 41, played on tour for 18 years and represented the U.S. in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She won one singles title and five doubles titles on tour and won the NCAA women’s singles championship while at Florida in 1996.

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Martin Blackman Named General Manager, USTA Player Development

From the USTA: WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., April 6, 2015 – The USTA today announced that Martin Blackman has been named General Manager, USTA Player Development. In this full-time position, Blackman will oversee the USTA’s Player development staff and partner with the U.S. tennis community to identify and develop the next generation of world-class American tennis players. Blackman will continue to work toward a true Team USA concept, working collegially and cooperatively with the greater American player development community.  Blackman, who will report to USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Gordon Smith, succeeds Patrick McEnroe, who held the position since 2008.

 

Blackman will oversee both the USTA’s Player Development staff and Training Centers –including its Regional Training Center network and the Player Development facilities at the soon-to-be created USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Fla.

 

Blackman has a diverse and extensive background as a coach and a player, beginning with his days as a junior, when he trained with legendary coach Nick Bollettieri, alongside future greats Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Blackman, who won the USTA Boys’ 16s National Championship in 1986 and reached the Boys’ 18s final two years later, went on to become a member of two NCAA Championship teams at Stanford University.  He continued his play at the ATP level from 1989 to 1995, reaching a career-high of No. 158.

 

Blackman then became the head men’s tennis coach at American University in 1998. During his tenure at American, Blackman was named conference Coach of the Year three times, leading American to three conference titles, two NCAA Tournament appearances and its first-ever national ranking.

 

In 2004, Blackman was hired as Director of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., and began to help build it into one of the premier junior training centers in America. In his five years at the JTCC, Blackman helped the Center double both its junior program enrollment and its full-time staff, and the JTCC has since worked with and helped develop pros such as Alison Riske and Denis Kudla and top junior Francis Tiafoe.

 

Near the end of his tenure in College Park, Blackman submitted a proposal to the USTA recommending that it partner with the best junior development programs across the nation, which was the impetus for the creation of the USTA Regional Training Center network.  He was hired by the USTA in 2009 as Senior Director of Talent Identification and Development, a role that saw him oversee the implementation of the Regional Training Center program, serve as a co-leader of the Coaching Education Department and be USTA Player Development’s leader for Diversity and Inclusion.

 

Blackman left the USTA in late 2011 to found his own tennis academy, the Blackman Tennis Academy, in Boca Raton, Fla. After only its second year of full-time programming, Blackman’s Academy sent all eight of its graduating students to college on tennis scholarships.

 

Blackman also served two terms on the USTA Board of Directors, from 2003-06, serving on the Audit and Collegiate Committees.

 

“The USTA is lucky to have secured an individual with as well-rounded a background as Martin Blackman,” said USTA Chairman, President and CEO Katrina Adams. “I have known Martin for many years and I am confident that he is the right person at the right time to continue to lead USTA Player Development in the right direction moving forward.”

 

“If you set out to list all of the experience and qualifications you would want in the ideal candidate for this position, Martin checks all of the boxes. He brings a unique combination of experience and skills to the job. His expansive background in all areas of player development from experience as a player, to talent identification, to coaching at the highest levels gives him  a solid platform to build on the great base that Patrick and the staff has built.” said USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Gordon Smith. “His experience as a player, coach, administrator and innovator makes him the ideal leader for USTA Player Development as we continue to work with the American Tennis Family to identify and develop world-class American players.”

 

Blackman lives in Boca Raton, Fla., with his wife and their four children. He holds an economics degree from George Washington University.

 

Update – here is the transcript from the USTA Media conference call with Mr Blackman. Journalists who asked the questions in the news conference were Colette Lewis of Zootennis, Rachel Cohen of AP,  Jim Martz, Dave “Koz” Kozlowski, Pam Shriver of ESPN Cindy Shmerler of Tennis Magazine,  Sandra Harwitt, Bill Simons and blogger Lisa Stone.

UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE

April 6, 2015

Katrina Adams

Martin Blackman

CHRIS WIDMAIER:  I’d like to thank all the members of the media joining us for this call today.  On the call today we will have the USTA chairman of the board and president, Katrina Adams, the USTA chief operating officer and executive director, Gordon Smith, and our newly named general manager for player development, Martin Blackman.
I’m going to turn it over to our chairman of the board and president Katrina Adams for some opening remarks.
KATRINA ADAMS:  Thank you.  Welcome, everyone, thank you for tuning in for this wonderful announcement of our hiring of Martin Blackman as our new general manager of player development.  He is very qualified.  It was an arduous deal for us in trying to come down to the final decision, but Martin’s background was well experienced and we’re truly excited about the future of American tennis going forward.
Without further ado, I’ll pass it over.
CHRIS WIDMAIER:  We’ll open it up to questions at this point.

Q.  Martin, why did you leave the USTA in 2011?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  In 2011, it was kind of the end of the first phase in RTC rollout.  I thought we did a great job kind of piggybacking on the work of Jose Higueras, under Patrick’s leadership, partnering with some of the best programs in the country.
I wanted to kind of take that time in my career and start a program, kind of go back into the private sector.  That was something I always wanted to do, and I thought that was the right time after we had finished the first part of the job with the regional training centers.
CHRIS WIDMAIER:  I wanted to point out, when Martin said the RTC in his answer, he was referring to the Regional Training Centers.

Q.  What, in your experience, as a private coach in the past three or four years have you learned about interacting with the USTA and how do you think that’s going to help you going forward?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I mean, so much.  Being in the trenches over the last four years and being on court six to eight hours a day with kids ages 8 to 18.  I think the first thing that I noticed when I went back into the field was how different the perception of private coaches of the USTA and player development.
The outreach that we started culminating with the Team USA initiative that was brought forth by Patrick and the USTA leadership is really bearing fruit.  I really felt that.  I felt like the coaches felt like they were being supported, respected and partnered with.  I also saw that when you get a player 14, 15, 16 years old, there’s an elite, high‑performance player, you really need the support of the Federation to get them to the next level.

Q.  You just mentioned a player in the 16‑, 17‑, 18‑year‑old range, what can the USTA provide for that level of a player?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I think, again, one of the strengths of Patrick’s leadership was that the support of player development was very flexible and able to be customized.  In some instances you’re going to have a player like a Madison Keys, who is able to go to a former championship like Lindsay Davenport, maybe get different types of support, or you’re going to get some players that will come to the USTA and get direct coaching.
But I think what Patrick and his team did so well, and I know Katrina and Gordon want to continue, is that we have to be flexible in the way that we relate to players, parents and coaches.  It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
The way the game is going, the resources that are needed to develop a top‑10 player, it’s very difficult to do that without some support from the Federation.

Q.  This morning I was talking to a veteran coach, Rick Macci, who said today is a very good day for American tennis with your announcement.  You can relate to what junior development is all about and deal with coaches in the private sector.  Could you elaborate a little more about that.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, I mean, you know that Rick is a great coach with an amazing track record.  I think one of the things you learn when you’re in the private sector and on the court a lot is the emotional investment that it takes to develop a good player.
It’s not just feeding balls, not just doing private lessons, not just going to tournaments.  There’s a huge emotional investment that the coach makes in the player and in the family.
So knowing that, when a transition is happening, we in player development have to be very sensitive in respecting that relationship between the player and their primary coach and their parents.
I think that’s something that I’m definitely sensitive to, but I think it’s something that Patrick and his team recognized when they rolled out the Team USA initiative.

Q.  I did a story once on University of Miami basketball coach Jim Larranaga, who is a big tennis fan.  I asked him about top athletes getting into tennis as opposed to maybe basketball.  I said what if Yannick Noah’s son Joakim had stayed in tennis, or what if LeBron James had gone into tennis?  He said both of them would have been the No.1 player in the world, in his opinion.  Talk about attracting top athletes to tennis, and is this something that high performance would get involved in?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I think it’s an ongoing challenge.  I mean, if we’re going to develop world‑class players, we want to start with young people who are potentially world‑class athletes.  So I think it’s a collaboration really with community tennis.  I know it’s something that Katrina is very serious about doing, opening the doors and changing some of the perception, creating more outreach opportunities.  I know Gordon feels that way, as well.
But it’s going to be a joint effort to broaden the base and reach out to communities that maybe we haven’t as much or that maybe perceived a lot of barriers when it comes to playing tennis.  We need to make sure we change the perception and remove the barriers as much as we can.

Q.  Nick Bollettieri was excited.  He endorsed you by saying you were a great listener and you wouldn’t be (indiscernible).  How strongly do you feel those two traits will help?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Definitely the first one.  In my first 36 to 60 days, I’m going to be doing a lot of listening.  I’m going to be listening to Katrina and Gordon as we crystallize the goals for player development and really set priorities.  I’m going to be listening to Patrick as he transitions out.  I’ll be doing a lot of lot of listening to Jay Berger, Ola Malmqvist and Jose Higueras, and I’ll be doing a lot of listening to past American champions and great coaches.
I think it’s very difficult to make good decisions if you’re not a good listener.  But at that point having priorities and having goals, you need to make decisions.  I appreciate Nick’s endorsement.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach and a mentor.  And, yes, I will be doing a lot of listening.

Q.  Will that include listening to the kids, getting feedback from the young players themselves?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yes.  I mean, I think you have different perspectives out there.  I think one of the most valuable perspectives that we have, and we have to tap into, is the voice of our former champions.  Katrina has initiated a great new mentorship program that’s really going to formalize some of the input and advice we get from some of those former champions.  Reaching back to players like Mary Joe Fernandez, Lindsay Davenport, Billie Jean King, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, reaching out to those great champions and listening to them, then listening to some of our current champions, then coming up with commonalities that we can formalize and make a little more systematic.

Q.  I know you have four kids.  I’m assuming some of them, if not all of them, have played some youth sports.  As a parent going through some experiences with youth sports, how is that affected and how do you think you’ll bring that experience as a parent and relate it to this position?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yes, I have four kids.  They all play tennis.  Two play because they really love it.  Two play because it’s a free sport from daddy.  But what I’ve learned in going to tournaments and watching them, watching a lot of my players, is that there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to skip levels, to be the eight‑year‑old that plays the 12‑and‑unders, to be the player that should be playing 60 orange that plays regular yellow.
That would probably be the first thing that I would try to address or continue to address with education and incentives because when you skip levels, you at some point are really retarding the developmental process.
A great example to me of someone I admire with decision make is CiCi Bellis.  After CiCi got to the second round of the US Open, beat Cibulkova, tremendous win, she played the Youth World Fed Cup, 16‑and‑under event.  She led her team to that title.  Then she played the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl.  The way she played 10Ks and 25Ks, that to me is an example of somebody who understands levels.
The second part of the experience with my kids is I love the concept of half‑day tournaments and one‑day tournaments for 10‑and‑under and 12‑and‑under tournaments.  There are not that many parents who can afford to take full days, Saturday and Sunday, away from their family and jobs to be in that situation.
Those are the two biggest things, the process of not skipping levels, and making competitive experiences more acceptable for average families.

Q.  Who were your idols growing up?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  My idols growing up were Jimmy Connors.  When I was a little kid, I used to pull my socks up to my knees like Jimmy Connors.  Guillermo Vilas was an idol of mine.  As I got to know more about him, then Arthur Ashe became a very serious role model for me.

Q.  Why all three of those?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, Jimmy Connors to me is probably, with the exception of maybe Rafa, the greatest competitor that’s ever played our sport.  That is very compelling to a young kid, just seeing somebody fight like that and be so passionate.  My parents took me to Forest Hills in ’77.  I was able to see him and Vilas up close.
So really the competitive spirit in Jimmy Connors.  For Vilas it’s more the grinder, somebody who worked so hard and played so gracefully.  Then for Arthur Ashe, it’s really about character, it’s about tennis being a metaphor for life, what you can do when you excel, people you can help.

Q.  What is the most significant character trait in your life that makes you well‑suited for this job?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I think discipline, decision making.  I think that along with listening and along with being a good leader, I think at the end of the day your decision making has to be very disciplined based on objective criteria, not emotional, not reactive.  I think that gives your team a sense of comfort in the process of how decisions are made, a sense of security.
At the end of the day when a great player pops up, that great player is an outlier.  That great player isn’t the result of some perfect formula that everybody figured out and put together.  Part of the system’s job is to stay out of the way, but also to facilitate the development of those players.  You have to have discipline.
If you make a decision that doesn’t fit the prodigy, it’s okay, because the prodigy is still going to become great.

Q.  The relationship of player development to the college tennis athlete.  I’m sitting at the Easter Bowl.  I’m at the 18s, taking note that most of these kids are on the college tennis pathway as opposed to the professional pathway.  What are your thoughts on how player development will work with those kids who are focused on the collegiate development pathway.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I think that with the changing demographics of the age of your top 100 players, that college is going to become a very important part of the pro tennis pathway.  If we’ve got top hundred men who are 27 years old on average, on the women’s side 24, you’re talking about a significant window of time after a player graduates from high school.
Again, Patrick showed great leadership in setting up a collegiate function within player development.  That’s something that I think we need to invest even more in to support our best college players, our best American college players, and our best American college coaches.

Q.  Do you see there will be additional funding support for those players, for example, during the summers when they may want to try their hand at pro circuit events or other professional tournaments?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, I think it’s a little premature for me to talk about funding.  I’m not officially on the job yet.
But in terms of priorities, it’s definitely a priority because especially on the men’s side, there are not that many boys who are ready for the rigors of the tour at 18 years old.  If they’re not, then we have a uniquely American advantage in our collegiate system that we need to make the most of.

Q.  I have been to your academy a few times.  It looks like it’s a very successful program.  I’m wondering why having developed it to that, what is the appeal to you about going back and not being your own boss, going back to the USTA, basically why you’re interested in moving in a different direction?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, I really enjoyed building my program.  We have a great team of coaches.  I’m going to be transitioning my program, the leadership of it, to my head coach Jose Caballero.
For me, this opportunity is the greatest opportunity for someone who is passionate about player development and really wants to give back to a sport that’s given me so much.
It’s a dream job for me.  So I had to pursue it.  I’m very fortunate that Katrina and Gordon have given me the opportunity to serve.

Q.  I’m a proponent of the old school where kids went to college then went out on the tour.  They all seem so anxious to go right away.  How do you convince an eager 16‑year‑old or 17‑year‑old who has had good results, but they’re not ready and they should take advantage of the college system?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yeah, I think player development as a department has done some great research on benchmarks for players.  When a player is about to graduate from high school, either on the men’s side or the women’s side, there’s some benchmarks they should be made aware of, they, their parents, their coach, their team.  So if they’re not having significant success on the tour, that should really be an indicator for them that college is the way to go.
But we have to make sure that we give them the support while they’re in college to keep developing as players and to come out when they’re 21, 22, ready to do damage, like John Isner, Steve Johnson.  And I think we’ll see more of them on the women’s side.  We have Irina Falconi at 100, but I think we’ll start to see more on the women’s side as well.

Q.  Do you think it’s a way of making careers last longer?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  I mean, I don’t know.  I do know if you’ve got five spots opening in the top 100 every year, and the average age is 24 on the women’s side, 27 on the men’s side, if I’m correct, I do know that there’s a gap of four to six years.
So the question is, what is the best way to develop a player during that window.  Do you want them to go on the futures tour, the challengers tour, play 30 weeks a year between the age of 18 and 24, or do you want them to mature and get stronger and then go out there.

Q.  Going back to attracting the best athletes.  I know it’s early, but I want to know from early ideas about working with the community tennis division side of the USTA, the beginning youth sports athletes.  How do we get better athletes, particularly when you look at the men’s side the last 15 years?  How do we do it?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  It’s a big question.  It’s a big question.  It’s an important question.
I’m going to give you a few ideas.  One of them is we have an opportunity with the 10‑and‑under formats that are kids’ sized.  We have the opportunity to have play on a 36 red court, a 60‑foot orange court.  Now, how do we leverage that opportunity so that we get kids who can play other sports in school for free to have a free experience in the right format en masse.  I think that’s a huge opportunity and I think we’re making big headway there, but there’s a lot more we can do.
I think number two is, there are a lot of city programs that have real meaningful, organic connections with African American communities, Hispanic communities, lower‑income communities, that we can support, that already have the relationships, but maybe don’t have the capacity or the resources.
I mean, thirdly, I think we just got to keep knocking down the perception that we’re a super expensive, elitist sport.
If we talked again in two months, I’ll have a very good answer for you.

Q.  Why do you think it’s been so long since the American men have lifted the trophy at a Grand Slam?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Well, I think there are a lot of factors that have contributed to the globalization of the game and just make it such a difficult sport.  I think one of the things that hurt us is that college was the most viable pathway in the ’70s and the ’80s.  I think that changed a lot in the ’90s where you had a lot of international players that used that time and really broke into the top 100 at a young age.
I think it’s a question of windows.  So we were blessed with Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Wheaton, Chang, and then with Roddick, Fish and Blake.  We’ve been blessed with Serena and Venus.
But now the role of the Federation in facilitating the development of a world‑class player is much greater.  I think that’s why we opened the window six years ago when Patrick was hired, and we’re starting to see the fruit right now.
Some of the bright lights right now, we’ve got 14 American women in the top 100 on the WTA, and we’ve got 13 boys in the top 100 of the ITF junior rankings, and three more who are playing pro who would also be top 100.  We’re looking at a pool of about 16 boys who are coming up the pipeline right now, and then 14 women who are already in the top 100.  So the window’s open again.  We just have to make sure that we get those players exactly what they need to get to the next level.

Q.  Katrina awhile ago said we are a nation that is a land of excess, not opportunity.  There’s a lack of motivation.  If kids don’t understand they have to do the hard work, they will never get anywhere.  Jose Higueras made a similar comment to the Los Angeles Times saying we were lacking competitiveness in our players.  That’s all about emotion, fire, hunger.  Talk about that.  Is that something an association can work with a player on?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yeah, I do think a Federation can make a huge impact.  I agree with Katrina and Jose.
I think what the challenge is, is to create a culture where all of our players are striving for excellence, striving for Grand Slam titles, striving to be top five.  Doesn’t mean they’re all going to achieve it, of course not.  But creating that culture allows players to push each other.  One player pops, the next one pops, the next one sees that, I can do that.
The mentorship program that Katrina has initiated, more involvement from some of our former champions, all those things are going to work together to create that culture.
I mean, if we’ve got boys or girls who are ranked 60 or 70 in the world, and they’re sitting at a table with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Serena, Venus, Lindsay Davenport, those American champions are not going to be patting them on the back telling them, Hey, you made it.  They’re going to inspire them to be what you said, raising a Grand Slam trophy.

Q.  A lot of kids come from families that can afford to give their kids tennis, but are choosing sports that are more team sports.  They like that atmosphere.  Do you think there’s a way of promoting kids into tennis, in the early years, making it more of a team sport than an individual sport to attract kids, that they feel part of a whole as opposed to on their own?
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  Yes, I think that’s already being done very effectively with some of the eight‑and‑under, 10‑and‑under events.  Even at the national level, the competitive structure, we’ve added a lot of national team competitions in addition to zonals and intersectionals.  I think that makes a huge difference in the way the game is perceived and the way a kid is introduced to tennis.

Q.  I’ve been to junior Fed Cup and Davis Cup.  Even that level of elite kids, it seems to bring something out in them when they’re rooting for the other person as well as just themselves.
MARTIN BLACKMAN:  For sure.  I totally agree with that.
CHRIS WIDMAIER:  I would like to take a moment to thank everybody for joining us on the call today.
Katrina, Gordon, thank you for taking the time.  Martin, congratulations.  We look forward to seeing everybody soon.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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David Nainkin Rejoins USTA Player Development as National Coach

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(January 6, 2015) The USTA announced on Tuesday that David Nainkin has rejoined USTA Player Development full-time as National Coach, Men’s Tennis, and that Maureen Diaz has been hired as a full-time National Coach based out of the USTA Training Center – East in Flushing, N.Y..

 

Nainkin, who was part of the USTA coaching staff from 2004-2013, returns to the USTA after spending a year coaching Sam Querrey. Nainkin will be based out of the USTA Training Center – West in Carson, Calif., working under Head of Men’s Tennis Jay Berger. Several top professional players have achieved career-high rankings under Nainkin’s guidance, including Mardy Fish (No. 7), Sloane Stephens (No. 11) and Querrey (No. 17).

 

Diaz joins the USTA Training Center – East coaching staff full-time after working as both a part-time coach and teaching pro at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center since early 2013. A former college singles player at the University of Southern California and recently the St. John’s University women’s coach, Diaz will help with the development of all players at the Training Center – East.

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