2011 Tennis Teachers Conference: Courier Calls for Change

August 30, 2011 06:37 PM
Davis Cup captain and USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman address the audience during the TTC closing session.
Courier demonstrates how players sliding on hard courts can lead to injuries.
Courier and Kamperman agree that 10 and Under Tennis is vital to the future success of American tennis.
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
 
Closing out the 2011 Tennis Teachers Conference was a job that called for the remarks of a true tennis icon -- Jim Courier.
 
Courier was one of the dominant players of the late '80s and '90s, winning over 500 career matches along with two French Open and two Australian Open titles in a two year period between 1991-93. 
 
Now the United States Davis Cup team captain after playing for the team seven different occasions, Courier sat down with USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman for about an hour and covered a variety of topics, including his singular greatest triumph (and heartbreak) of his career, how the game has changed, how equipment and training has changed, Davis Cup and ATP/WTA scheduling and lastly, 10 and Under Tennis and how he would grow the game in America.

Who they are:

- Jim Courier, International Tennis Hall of Famer, four-time Grand Slam event champion, U.S. Davis Cup team captain

- Kurt Kamperman, USTA Chief Executive, Community Tennis

Why they're speaking:

Courier, who also runs a New York-based event promotion company called "InsideOut Sport & Entertainment," believes that with change - particularly adding a true offseason in the ATP and WTA tours and making the Davis Cup a two-week centralized event - dollars will develop. Players will stay fresher, careers will be extended and willingness to participate in Davis/Fed Cup play will increase.

Kamperman, meanwhile, has been leading the charge for 10 and Under Tennis and facility building with blended line courts. To keep kids in the game, the USTA is extending the unprecedented gesture of reimbursing 75 percent of all funds necessary to convert a conventional 78-foot court to a blended lines court, which defines the 36-foot and 60-foot dimensions for 10 and Under Tennis.

Feature Idea: "Scheduling & a Fifth Slam"

Courier wasted no time in identifying the biggest need for the professional game going forward.

"Scheduling is the number one problem for both the players and the fans," said Courier. "We need a more logical season - combined events, where the fans would know that TV events all meant something.

"There's an even easier fix to get more attention on the game, and that is to take all four Grand Slam events and make them uniform: 16-day tournaments starting on the weekend when the players have all arrived, are in good form and you can gain momentum going into the week. If these are the events that the casual tennis fans are trying to find, why start on Monday? Its no additional cost, as the venues are already booked on those days - its all revenue upside for everyone involved."

Then the conversation turned to Davis Cup play.

"I have a lot of friends who understand tennis on the periphery, as I'm sure we all do," Courier said to the Grand Hyatt ballroom. "When I was appointed Davis Cup captain, many of them called me up to congratulate me. At the same time, they were asking me what Davis Cup is - when its played, who do we play, what it means. That's a problem with an event that has over a century of history.

"We love the atmosphere at our Davis Cup events, like Austin in July, but again the scheduling is a nightmare, which in turn hampers participation. There's too much uncertainty, too close to each tie."

Courier proposes that instead of four shoehorned weeks of Davis Cup play in the tennis calendar, one two-week event, like the US Open, would open things up - and the unique team and patriotic aspects of Cup play could be promoted on par with the four Slams. For players who may protest that having a worldwide combined tournament would eliminate home country play, Courier noted that qualifying ties, like soccer's World Cup format, are still heavily promoted and attended.

"The same could be said for Fed Cup," said Kamperman. "We have this great product, but its not making money."

With the major team events, the bottom line has a true trickle-down effect with the USTA.

"The organization's goal - its purpose - is to promote and develop the game of tennis, and what helps you most? Money," added Courier. "Without the funds and resources to build programming, we cannot do our job. The fifth Slam, at least, would make four times as much than the four Davis Cup ties do in a year currently.

"Just because I have issues with how things are run, I'm still the captain, I still love (Davis Cup). I care about it. I want it to be better, and disappointed that its not."

How To Improve: "Blended Lines For All"

"10 and Under Tennis, I think, is the best thing to happen to the sport of tennis in a long time," said Courier, to the delight of the audience - many of whom are involved with tennis year-round as coaches and volunteers.

"You guys are at the front lines of a hard, complicated sport to teach to adults, let alone children. What you do to keep the kids engaged and involved with tennis, making them feel successful, makes the courts an easier place to be."

As the session was Q&A, a coach in the audience stood up at that point and addressed Courier and Kamperman: "We hear about courts with new lines, but we don't have the funding or the manpower to overhaul our courts."

Kamperman was quick to lend guidance: "We know the concerns, and the USTA is offering to work with you. For applying tennis facilities, we're making grants available to cover 75 percent of the cost to line courts with blended lines."

The quest for blended lines is rooted in convenience and conservation for clubs, parks and public courts essentially, with the new blue muted lines, a conventional 78-foot court can be transformed into four 36-foot 10 and Under Tennis courts for young children to play on. Ideally, large crowds of kids won't have to stand around and wait their turn to play tennis, or worse, decide to gravitate to another sport because they're bored.

"People ask me for one piece of advice pertaining to their kids and tennis, and I tell them it about having fun above all," said Courier. "When the kids aren't having fun, they're not sticking around. That's universal. I would have been the same way if tennis wasn't fun for me."

 

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