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Old 05-22-2013, 12:39 AM   #66
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Default United States finding their feet again on clay

Good to hear that they are working hard

Quote:
US tennis is undergoing radical changes. For the first time in its history, the highest-ranked male American is outside the top 10, and the USTA has decided to implement a programme to get its players back on track. The road will likely be long and feature a number of pitfalls, including clay, with a number of young up-and-coming players about to cut their teeth on the surface for the first time.

Jack Sock, Denis Kudla, Rhyne Williams, Steve Johnson, Bradley Klahn, Tennys Sandgren. They are all aged between 20 – 22, have half-a-dozen coaches looking after them and make up a very prominent US delegation here at Roland Garros. On Tuesday for the start of qualifying, most of them found themselves alongside one another on courts No.8 and No.9. "I can't wait to play on European clay for the first time," said 20-year-old Sock a few minutes before getting his campaign under way against Belgium's Maxime Authom. Like many US players, the 2010 US Open junior champion is discovering the old continent for the first time as part of the USTA's drive to rebuild American tennis in the post-Andy Roddick era.

Other than Ryan Harrison who has made swifter progress than the rest, the group is a very compact one in terms of the rankings, with all of them around No.130 in the world. "We got here 10 days ago to play the Challenger in Bordeaux then Roland Garros qualifiers," explains Craig Boynton, one the federation's coaches. "For many of them this is their first contact with red clay which is very different from the green clay which we have in the United States. The main aim is for the players to learn as much as possible about the surface – using shots and tactics that they aren't used to on hard courts. It really is all about learning… and we can see that they've got a lot of work still ahead of them!" he smiled, watching on while his protégé Steve Johnson, who made the third round of the US Open last year, came through in three sets against Turkey's Marsel Ilhan, despite the court being very slow due to the weather.

Courier: "Not having a mental block is already a big part of the job"

"You can sense that they are all really motivated to improve," explains former French player Jean-François Perlant who got to see them in the flesh last week in his role as tournament director at the Challenger in Bordeaux. "Most of them obviously play an American style of tennis – very powerful, big service… You can tell that they've been brought up on hard courts. They don't know how to slide, they lack patience, they struggle to build up a point… But they train hard and they're really enthusiastic… They're not arrogant either – they don't think they're better than the rest," added Perlant, who was impressed by their willingness to listen and learn. "They've got a long road ahead of them but once they gain a little maturity, they look like they'll go far."

That indeed is the plan, with every level of American tennis pyramid involved in the programme, including the Davis Cup squad, with Kudla and Williams having already played on red dirt in Monte Carlo as hitting partners for the team which eliminated France in the quarter-finals last year at the Monte Carlo Country Club. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier is more interested in giving youngsters a chance rather than focusing on their lack of experience. "There's no reason for them to be less good in clay than on any other surface. Back in my day no American had won Roland Garros for 40 years! And then Andre (Agassi), Michael (Chang) and I all came along at the same time," said the four-time Slam champion and winner of the French Open in 1991 and 1992. "Our job, either for me or for the coaches, is to make them realise that they can do well on clay and not be afraid of the surface. Not having a mental block is already a big part of the job." The proof of the pudding is set to come this week.
http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/ne...153216489.html
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