The age-old question in Australian tennis.
As a country, we are known for producing some incredible tennis stars. From Margaret Court to Evonne Goolagong Cawley to Lleyton Hewitt to Ashley Barty, Australian players have shined on the big stage for decades.
However, one thing is clear. Australia needs to have more than a few dominant players on both the WTA and ATP tours.
Don’t get me wrong, currently, on the mens side we have Alex De Minaur leading the way with 9 players in the ATP top 100 currently.
After Barty’s retirement, however, there are no women currently in the top 100 of the WTA tour. Kimberly Birrell did sneak in for a day on rhe 18th September and sits at 104 Live.
However, we can also observe some very obvious issues that Australia as a country can overcome to get more players to dominate on the tour as a group.
To begin with, a serious issue is the fact that in Australian tennis we see one or two breakout stars at a time. This is due to the fact that only select players are focused on at a time by state and national organizations in terms of state and national sponsorship with training, fitness sessions, and tournament travel as well as stipends.
Instead of selecting a whole group of players to work together and push each other to be better with an even spread of support, Australia tends to pick and choose giving only one or two players this treatment.
Other countries such as the USA, Russia, and Spain always have a consistent group of players because, from a young age, they work in large groups that push each other and work together to grow and develop as athletes.
Tennis Australia and state organizations need to implement these same tactics from the junior levels. We need entire groups of players working as a team to create better and more equal opportunities for more players as well as help them competitively motivate each other from the junior stages. It is integral to have 10/u, 12/u, 14/u, 16/u, 18/u, and senior age groups for each state and national groups of at least 10-12 players with equal opportunities and training.
As I stated, this will mean more good players who push each other to strive for more greatness and also can support each other across the globe. This environment is not only fairer but will produce more players of differing game styles and varieties who will excel on the tour. It will also place less pressure on select players to perform well which can lead to burnout of some of our best junior talent.
Having better-distributed resources and attention for more players is a win-win for all involved. In addition, another issue with tennis in Australia is the severe lack of ITF junior, futures, and professional-level tournaments. It is well known that in Australia, our players are at a geographical disadvantage when it comes to European, Asian American, and South American counterparts.
This is because they have so many different players from different countries competing in so many tournaments without having to spend a lot of funds on traveling and accommodations.
Also many are traveling together in teams which relates to my first paragraph about the importance of more teamwork in our organizations.
If we provided more tournaments in Australia at the ITF levels our players would have more access to high-level tournaments without having to break the bank traveling far and wide for the opportunities to play that other players have so close to home. It is also imperative to have more wild-card opportunities for our Aussie players so that they have the chance to step on the big stage and prove themselves to be able to break through. Sometimes it is virtually impossible to break into big tournaments such as high-level ITFs and Grand Slams but by reserving wildcards we can allocate spots for our talent to allow them opportunities to shine.
This system also would have to rotate between layers, so it is not always the same players getting these wild cards.
Furthermore, one specific aspect that can be improved is coaching. Our Aussie players need to have more discipline and better fitness. It is a proven fact that we have seen again and again, especially on the men’s side. Players from other regions across the globe seem to have much more hunger and drive to perform well in each tournament which leads to more consistent play.
But this stems from coaching habits in juniors. Too many Aussie coaches give the reins to players without setting down the ground rules for good sportsmanship and behavior as well as giving 110% each time you step out on the court.
I explained in a previous article, titled “WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES IN COACHING STYLES IN THE US AND AUSTRALIA?” that Australian coaching gives a lot of freedom to players.
This is a good thing in the sense that it takes a lot of pressure off players and lets them enjoy the sport more, but there needs to be a fine line. Of course, coaches need to not be too much in the sense that they are forcing or pressuring players to excel in a toxic environment, but coaches simply need to drive and push their players more.
Poor training and performance one day, followed by brilliant tennis the next is not healthy and does not produce consistent top players. Our coaches need to lay down the foundation of hard work over talent and be firm with players who want to achieve greatness. We need to see more of the Aussie hunger and grit that we were so known for in previous decades. This is the final piece of the puzzle to helping our players excel on the global stage.
In conclusion, Aussie players can be developed into better athletes who are consistent on the WTA and ATP tours from outside factors such as Tennis Australia and state programs as well as coaches and better opportunities.
All our players deserve a fair chance to excel which will in turn drive them all further by giving more players attention and resources. Bigger ITF tournaments along with wildcards also need to be added to the calendar so that our players are not constantly traveling and not getting any good competition and results from home.
And finally, coaching needs to be firmer with more emphasis on hard work and passion so that we see more of our Aussie talent winning big titles and dominating the rankings.