The evolution of tennis

Posted Feb 10, 2008

By Jeff Brack
February 2008

All things change. It’s inevitable. Yes, even tennis. To survive, adaptation is not an option. Even with the game’s beautiful and storied tradition, we are still fighting to exist. That is why we must all embrace the USTA’s new “Future Ready” initiative, consider the big picture and encourage anyone and everyone to come out and play.

Obviously, I love the game as much as the next tennis nut, however, I also believe and support the USTA’s mission statement – To promote and develop the growth of tennis. And I know first-hand from my experiences as a player, a professional and a promoter, that making adjustments to keep up with our ever-changing and accelerating culture is crucial.

In the big picture, what we’ve arrived with is a supply that no longer fits the demand. People need activities that fit within their cramped, high-octane schedules. In this case, if the shoe doesn’t fit, they’ll go shopping for trousers.

Shorter, time-definable formats ARE the wave of the future. Will these replace our traditional weekend events completely? I don’t think so. But those are for a different demographic anyway. One-day format events and flex leagues are creating play options for the greater public that require very little time commitment. And guess what? Tennis is growing again. We are the only main stream sport to have growth over the last six years.

One-day, non-elimination events, operating under various names from Super Sets to Shootouts, are also providing incremental competitive steps for upcoming juniors and adults. Here is a programming option that offers 3 to 4 guaranteed matches, against a variety of competitors in a non-threatening environment. These short formats are finally making tennis a realistic alternative to soccer, t-ball and basketball.

Here’s how far we’ve come: As a member of the USTA’s National Tennis Innovation Committee, I have had the great fortune to be part of a group that has identified the critical role that one-day formats are playing in the growth of our sport. We have made the nationwide initiation of these events our #1 priority. At press time, we currently have 12 of 17 USTA sections sanctioning one-day Shootouts for juniors, adults or both. Two more are officially considering pilots in the coming months. In 2008, the Southwest Section has 56 sanctioned one-day format events alone.

It’s a great start, however we don’t want tennis to simply survive- we want it to thrive! With these new play options and the USTA’s implementation of the revolutionary Quickstart instructional and competitive system, we’re not only going to draw more people to tennis – we’re going to keep them playing.

American culture has evolved; there’s no debating that. Now, tennis is evolving to make up for lost time. Is that a boom I hear in the distance?