Commentary

Patrick McEnroe out at USTA

Fair or not, head of player development took a lot heat for futile results

Updated: September 4, 2014, 1:49 AM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- For several years now, Patrick McEnroe has handled the myriad questions about the sagging state of American tennis deftly and with a sense of humor sometimes approaching grace.

He would point optimistically to the emerging 12- and 14-year-olds at the United States Tennis Association training centers around the country. But, it turns out, McEnroe won't be the USTA's head of player development when those juniors come of age.

Wednesday evening, the New York Times broke the news that the ESPN analyst and younger brother of John McEnroe was leaving after more than six years in of the nation's top tennis job. Patrick McEnroe and top USTA officials acknowledged the news, saying that McEnroe decided to leave the position before the annual meeting with his 54-person player development staff.

[+] EnlargePatrick McEnroe
HRVOJE POLAN/AFP/Getty ImagesIt's hard to fully blame Patrick McEnroe, but the fact of the matter is that not one U.S. men's player has won a Grand Slam since Andy Roddick in 2003.

McEnroe reportedly draws a salary in excess of $1 million from the USTA.

The USTA plans to centralize its player development operations in Orlando, and McEnroe, who lives in New York, said he wasn't prepared to make the move.

"That was the impetus to do this now," McEnroe said in a news conference. "It was not so much the time commitment -- it was the location. You could say I should have been in Florida. But I feel I've been doing the job here for the last six years."

McEnroe will stay on in his position and be part of the search for his successor.

Did the poor performance of American men have anything to do with the decision?

"The answer is no," said Gordon Smith, the USTA's executive director and chief operating officer. "We have a great foundation, and I think you're going to see results."

Gordon cited the fact that seven of the 16 boys in the Wimbledon junior tournament's round of 16 were American.

McEnroe first acknowledged the decision on the ESPN set at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center following the Stan Wawrinka-Kei Nishikori match:

"We've made some major strides despite the fact were struggling at the top of the men's side," McEnroe said. "I hope to still be involved in this transition in the coming months. "But, hey, maybe I get to spend more time with you guys."

The sometimes volatile John McEnroe joked that he was withdrawing his name from consideration as a successor.

"I will not be next," he said on the set. "Something tells me I'm not at the top of the list."

Chrissie Evert added, "There is no doubt that you are a true leader. It's very evident this job -- I can't believe how demanding it is. You're dealing with coaches, players, a lot of criticism."

Patrick McEnroe laughed and asked, "You want to see my emails?"

And then he concluded.

"We're all trying to get better," he said. "It's what we've started to do. I'm excited about the future of American tennis."

The former U.S. Davis Cup captain was calling the Wawrinka-Nishikori match on ESPN when a New York Times report surfaced.

At this year's US Open, no American men reached the fourth round. It happened last year, too, marking the only two times that's happened in the 134-year history of the tournament. Andy Roddick was the last U.S. man to win a Grand Slam, the 2003 US Open, and hold the No. 1 ranking.

Since then, American men have gone 0-for-43 in winning majors. In that time, however, Serena and Venus Williams have won 13 between them.

Forty, 50 years ago, sometimes half of the top 100 player were Americans. Today there are six.

John Isner, the top-ranked American man, is currently at No. 15. Speaking from Florida, he said he had a difficult time connecting the recent string of futility by U.S. male players to McEnroe.

"His personal involvement in my game, or Sam Querrey's game, was minimal to zero -- and I'm fine with that," Isner told ESPN.com. "The guys playing on the pro tour -- he had no hand in that, really."

Isner, who played for McEnroe on several Davis Cup teams but not McEnroe's 2007 Davis Cup championship squad, said he was surprised by the move.

"I guess maybe the powers that be, whoever ultimately came down with this decision, was tired of the same old results. And all the same old stories being written."

Last week, former top-10 player Todd Martin addressed the issue in an interview with ESPN.com.

"I think it's more just a matter of the globalization of the sport and also the typical cycles of success within the sport," said Martin, who steps into the role of CEO at the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Friday. "It's such a big issue for our country. We do not have enough kids taking up the sport. The international game is more popular than it is here.

"As long as the best athletes are going to football, basketball, soccer and lacrosse, we're going to continue to struggle."

If he hadn't recently come aboard the Hall of Fame, Martin might have been a good candidate for the USTA's head-development job. Whoever takes the job won't have to be merely a smooth ambassador -- they'll have to deal with the fact that the tennis world is rapidly expanding.

The dramatic globalization of the game suggests the dazzling results of the United States' 1970s, '80s and '90s glory days will be difficult -- if not impossible -- to replicate.

"We're going to continue the course," said Smith. "This isn't a change of direction."

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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