Join Date: Jul 2008
Re: Jason Kubler Cheering Thread
I think you guys should read this articles. It shows TA's commitment to the juniors
Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald has hailed the recruitment of Spanish claycourt coach Felix Mantilla as one of the most significant developments in Australian tennis in decades.
Mantilla has been appointed to nurture Australia's next generation of stars and, given we have the most exciting batch of juniors in world tennis, his role is crucial.
In Bernard Tomic, Jason Kubler and Luke Saville, Australia boasts the top-ranked 17, 16 and 15-year-old players in the world.
The trio - who between them have already captured the junior Australian Open, junior US Open and junior Davis Cup trophies - are among a raft of outstanding teenagers aiming to restore Australia's battered reputation.
"Of the top 25 youngest players in the world that are ranked on the senior tour - not the junior tour - four of them are Australian, and that's more than any other nation," Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley told AAP.
"Really, for the first time in many, many years, we've got a core group of young players.
"It's not just one. There's a large group of them and this will lay the foundation not only for the future but also for what's behind them.
"It will provide ongoing motivation and interest for other great athletes just beneath them.
"So we're really excited about it."
Fitzgerald believes Australia has about 10 world-class junior boys, with many good judges tipping 14-year-old NSW hot shot Jay Andrijic - who is already being liked to a young Rafael Nadal - could emerge as the best of the lot.
The outlook is also bright for Australia's next wave of women.
Australia won the Junior Fed Cup two years ago, while long-time coach Gavin Hopper rates the current crop of 12 and 13-year-olds as the most promising group he has seen.
The task now is for Tennis Australia (TA) to parlay this exceptional junior talent into grand slam glory in the professional ranks.
The former French Open semi-finalist and world top-tenner is central to TA's strategic plan, implemented four years ago, aimed at returning Australia to the top of the world tennis tree.
A priority of Tiley and his new regime was to replenish the country's dwindling stock of clay courts.
With that objective partly fulfilled - with clay courts now laid at every national training academy in the country and tennis clubs across Australia slowly but surely reverting to dirt - TA aggressively pursued Mantilla.
"Having clay courts is one thing but then having someone that knows how to coach and play on clay is another," Tiley said.
After a lengthy process, Tiley finally nabbed his man last year, securing Mantilla's services from under the noses of equally eager officials from the the USTA and Britain's national federation.
"He looked at all the programs and said ours was the most appealing," Tiley said.
As part of the estimated $150 million invested in tennis by TA and the state and national governments over the past four years, TA has established a claycourt training base in Barcelona.
With Mantilla stationed in Spain for most of the year, TA will send Australia's elite juniors, from 12 upwards, across for rigorous training blocks of four to eight weeks on clay, universally acknowledged as the best surface to learn on.
"We still have a court surface issue in this country," Fitzgerald said.
"It's improving ever so slowly and having Felix Mantilla now is a great asset to us. I reckon it's a very, very important appointment.
"For our better kids, the trend now to go earlier, to get 12, 13, 14-year-old kids into Europe, is a good one.
"Felix knows how to play on clay, understands the ramifications of not learning on clay and it gives them the base that they need to play on all surfaces.
"But clay is the best thing to do it on. You learn when to attack, when to defend. You get more miles in your legs, you get all the hip strength, quads and it's better on your joints.
"Some of our kids have gone across there and the first time they go, it hits them like a ton of bricks; it's a reality check.
"But if they get that experience early, it can make a difference.
"So we're trying to send more and more kids earlier and earlier."
Tiley said the European experience "is also about playing players who play on clay".
"Playing against the Spanish kids and the French kids, it's great for them," he said.
"And they all go with their coaches. Assigned coaches.
"So we're investing heavily in that initiative. We've invested in the personnel, we've invested in the travel and, for us in Australia, it's costing us a lot more."
The other significant change in TA's player development program, which is the envy of other national federations - even if it hasn't yet been recognised by the Australian public at large - is the fast-tracking of our elite juniors to the professional ranks.
While Saville and Kubler top the world rankings as 15 and 16-year-olds, TA now actively discourages Australia's best youngsters from contesting junior events from age 17 up.
There's a very good reason why you won't find Nadal's name on any junior grand slam trophies - he was too busy as a teen cutting his teeth against men.
It's no coincidence either that Nadal's only compatriot in the top 100 of the boys 18 years and under world rankings is a 16-year-old at No.88 - Spaniards generally don't bother playing junior tournaments.
After an exhaustive retrospective investigation of the rankings history of the world's top 100 men and women as at January 1 this year, TA has introduced performance benchmarks to determine players' funding levels.
For example, to receive a full scholarship with Tennis Australia, a 17-year-old boy must be ranked inside the top 720 on the ATP Tour, or top 10 on the ITF junior rankings.
ITF junior rankings aren't applicable for 18-year-olds and, by 19 and 20, players can forget full TA backing if they're not in the world's top 165.
"In the old system in Australia, we don't let them play juniors anymore," Tiley said.
"We spend more money and resources now into helping them make the transition to the seniors.
"We pick the 16 best (junior) athletes (from 15 up), we give them a coach and we pay for their travel around the world.
"If you are 17 and 18 years old, we don't fund junior tennis for you.
"We're now focused on preparing them for professional tennis, not junior tennis.
"And the transition now starts at 11. It doesn't start at 17 years old."
Australia has a long list of junior grand slam champions and junior world No.1s who failed to kick on.
Mark Kratzmann, Shane Barr, Johan Anderson, Grant Doyle, Ben Ellwood, Todd Reid, Debbie Freeman, Jenny Byrne, Michelle Jaggard, Jo-Anne Faull, Joanne Limmer, Trudi Musgrove and Siobhan Drake, with due respect, all flopped after highly successful junior careers.
Lleyton Hewitt, on the other hand, ditched the juniors and, at 15, became the youngest male in history to qualify for Australian Open, then toppled Andre Agassi en route to his first ATP title at 16 before being crowned the youngest men's year-end world No.1 at 20.
Fitzgerald says while "everybody in Australian tennis" should carry the blame for taking their eye off the ball for a decade in the 1980s and 90s, resulting in a lost generation, there is now genuine hope of a return to the halcyon days.
"Absolutely we've got to aspire to that," Fitzgerald said.
"We had Lleyton and Pat (Rafter) who reached No.1 and that's an enormous effort in a global sport.
"No-one can tell me it's as easy as the 1950s and 60s to do that. I mean, there's so many more countries now, and China's coming too.
"However, you've got to aspire to that. You just want more kids at a tour level and more kids that give you a chance to win a Davis Cup competition.
"We've got to get more numbers ongoing as well. It's an ongoing battle.
"But I think over the last four years, the structure of player development is starting to have some effect."
When he took charge in 2005, Tiley warned it would be quite a journey back for Australian tennis.
"We were losing courts, participation was declining, ball sales were declining, the number of players in the top 100 and top 250 were declining," Tiley said.
"So we said we were going to turn this around.
"It's going to take time and the final, ultimate end product of it will be great champions.
"However, developing a great champion will only really be leveraged well if there's an infrastructure to support the next one coming through.
"So that will take years and years.
"But I know now, four years later, that we're going into our second year of an increase in participation - an eight per cent increase, 170,000 more people playing the game in 2008.
"We've arrested the decline in courts. We've built over 700 new courts and that's resulted in an outside investment of $120 million.
"I have a direct relationship with 2500 coaches, a direct relationship which we'd never had before.
"And we now have over 30 former players on our books working for us. We never had that either.
"The bottom line is the coaches and the players are getting on with the business and they're getting the results and we're seeing that."