Excerpt from “Paul Annacone Wants to Help Put U.S. Men’s Tennis Back on Right Track,” by Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times (2/17/21)
Paul Annacone is eminently qualified to understand the disappointing absence of American men from the upper echelons of men’s tennis rankings and to recognize that the way to help players realize their potential is through wide collaboration starting at the local level.
Annacone, who reached a peak singles ranking of No. 12 in the world in 1986 and won the 1985 Australian Open men’s doubles title with Christo van Rensburg, coached Grand Slam singles champions Pete Sampras and Roger Federer and now works with Taylor Fritz of 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 reach the second week was Mackenzie McDonald, who won the 2016 NCAA singles and doubles championships while at UCLA. McDonald lost his fourth-round match to No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev in straight sets, continuing American men’s futility in major events. American women are thriving, but no American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick triumphed at the 2003 U.S. Open.
“Back in the dark ages when I got off my dinosaur and played, I came along right as John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were finishing. So I got to be ranked 12 in the world, and while I thought that was great for me, that’s not really kind of what the USA is looking for,” Annacone said in a recent phone
“We’re looking for the legends. We’ve been spoiled with the [Andre] Agassis, Samprases, Jim Couriers, Michael Chang. Connors. McEnroe. We’ve had so many. After that, we had Andy Roddick come along and get ranked No. 1 in the world. I think it’s a very challenging environment right now, but that expectation is hanging over the young American men and the young American ladies as well.”
Annacone, who worked in player development for the U.S. Tennis Assn. as well as the Lawn Tennis Assn. in England and Tennis Australia, will have a chance to improve the environment for young players here as a new member of the player development staff of the Southern California section of the U.S. Tennis Assn. He will work 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 permits, launching a college combine, holding clinics for promising young players starting at the 12-and-under level and bringing coaches together to pool their knowledge. He’d like to hold programs and clinics at clubs throughout Southern California.
The talent is out there. And the sport’s popularity has survived pandemic restrictions, probably because tennis is inherently socially distanced. According to a survey conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys and published in the Physical Activity Council’s Participation Report, participation in tennis increased by 22% in 2020.
“Southern California historically has had the best players in the United States and some of the best players in the world, and they still do,” Annacone said. “Everyone’s kind of looking for the holy grail, but there really isn’t one. It’s a lot of hard work.”