General Motors and American Doubles, a lack of vision!
By Jim Reffkin

December 2005

We have all read about the terrible situation General Motors is now in. They are doing so badly that they must lay off 30,000 employees, and even more important - they must pray for concessions from the United Auto Makers Union.

Interesting enough, GM's demise is kinda like our situation with the USTA and ATP trying to save doubles participation. In fact, it took years for both tennis and our sacred American auto makers to reach such a dismal state of operation. Over those many years, both have ignored the consequences of a lack of vision and a lack of product development. Both obviously have, in one way or another, comparable fatal flaws.

General Motors became so large and so uncompetitive, they were in default before they even knew it. Young people wanted the trendy and efficient Japanese automobiles but GM continued cranking out the "clunkers." USTA, finally realizing there should be a sense of urgency in promoting junior doubles, could not effectively reach the very lifeline of its association for support - the districts and sections. Junior doubles was disappearing and no one knew it was happening, or how to stop it; that is until we did so badly in doubles against Switzerland in the Davis Cup. We contacted the USTA Sections, and lo and behold we found that very few junior tournaments were offering doubles. Why? Its very simple, no time! Just think about it, what are the consequences if our young people are not attracted to doubles at an early age and no one is promoting it; how popular will adult doubles be? Answer please: there will be an adult "stock market doubles crash" in the very near future.

The perception of General Motors was unmistakable; they were "King" of the global auto industry. Detroit and GM were a model for business to admire and to be in awe of.

Even though tennis has not been anything close to what GM has accomplished over the years, it still is comparable in how poor their system of product development has been - a battleship in a pond and hopelessly trying to change directions.

How could GM allow themselves to sink to such a low in the auto industry? And how could Tennis have ignored for so many years the repose of Junior Doubles? There is plenty of blame to go around, but lets try and find some answers. Let's just hope that because the current perception of Tennis doubles is now so poor - remember Oldsmobile - the USTA, ATP and ITF can turn this around.

I had the opportunity to speak with Wayne Bryan (father of the #1 doubles team in the world) about this "doubles dilemma" and I have also in the past spoken with Jimmy Grabb, who used to be ranked as the #1 Doubles player in the World. They both are obviously disappointed at the dismal positioning professional doubles has gotten itself into. The ATP not only did nothing to help, but even worse, came up recently with this ridiculous new format and eligibility rules that forced a lawsuit by the current competing ATP doubles teams.

ATP now has a new President and now they have a new format to hopefully compromise the self interest needs of television, the players, and tournament directors. It happens to be the format Mixed Doubles is using at the US Open and the Australian Open - match tiebreak in lie of 3rd set. This very format, with heated opposition by the "old guard" was introduced in the Southwest almost twenty years ago and has progressively been adopted by the USTA for a growing variety of USTA adult and junior sanctioned events. It is: time definable; exciting; attracts spectators and encourages singles players to play doubles.

In 2001, I chaired a National Ad Hoc Committee to get us out of the corner we painted ourselves into. And thanks to the USTA Southwest Section, which served as a pilot for the changes the committee suggested, junior doubles in the Southwest is slowly increasing participation once again.

The Committee's suggestions: 1) One entry fee for singles and doubles 2) Collegiate scoring (8 game pro set) 3) Improving match time scheduling 4) Mandatory doubles participation for a singles ranking 5) Sectional Doubles Workshops 6) National Doubles Only Events.

All of the above suggestions are now in place in the Southwest Section. Currently the Reffkin Tennis Center in Tucson is hosting the Arizona Junior Doubles Championship (a doubles only event) however, in December, 2006 this event will become the National Junior Doubles Championship, in Sunny Tucson, Arizona.