College Tennis: Launch Pad To The Professional Circuit?

(From time to time, Adjusting the Net will have posts written by guest writers. Here is one looking at college tennis in America as a pathway by many to the pro ranks.)

College Tennis: Launch Pad To The Professional Circuit?
By Jeanna Carter

For many professional tennis players, competing in a venue like Wimbledon or the U.S. Open is a dream come true. But what was the launch pad that led them to the professional circuit?

For many, it was college. While studying accounting, or whatever other academic focus the athlete chooses, they can hone their skills and self-determination which will hopefully give them the drive they need to make it into the pros.

Up until the mid-1980’s, virtually every male American professional tennis player including John McEnroe, Arthur Ashe, and Jimmy Connors took to the court in college. Shortly after, tennis stars like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang skipped the college route, and gained notoriety and success playing professionally at a young age.

According to a USA Today article, Patrick McEnroe, the general manager in charge of player development for the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), wants to help more U.S. junior players follow the path of college before a pro career. Moreover, McEnroe, who played tennis for Stanford and then went on to earn more than $3 million professionally, finds that male players hit their prime in their early and mid-20s. College can give players the time, training, committed coaches, physical trainers, sports psychologists, massage therapists and close-knit teammates needed to produce a Grand Slam player along with the skills to help athletes manage their money.

McEnroe believes that 99% of junior players should aspire to play collegiate varsity tennis. In addition, A USTA Collegiate Varsity Committee 2010 report, provided statistical data proving monetary tennis scholarship funds were worth more than the cost of playing and winning professionally at a highly competitive level. Money spent for players to attend collegiate tennis programs translates into later success.

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), the governing body of college tennis, overseeing men’s and women’s varsity tennis at NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA and Junior/Community College, provides a list of former American college participants playing professional tennis today. To add, most professional players credit college for helping them to establish a solid foundation before heading into the pros.

Historically, college is less of an option for women players, because they mature quicker than men. As a result, many professional women tennis players play their first pro games at age 14 or 15. American women including Billie Jean King and Althea Gibson did play tennis in college before going pro. Most notables such as Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport did not. In other countries, both male and female tennis players turn professional at early ages because they can complete their high school education by age 16, and can play on tour before and after this age. Yet they can still go on to study at a European university later on after they have given pro tennis a respectable try.

Perhaps the rising college tennis stars of today are becoming better players through all a university has to offer. The success of Steve Johnson from the University of Southern California, and current ITA number one, as well as Mitchell Frank (University of Virginia), like Johnson, a world ranking singles player, serves to confirm the strength of the collegiate experience. College tennis has helped some of today’s brightest young stars bring their game up to the next level, where they can find success they would otherwise have not attained. There are still plenty of reasons to use college as a springboard to professional success.

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