Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras have left inspiration in their wake and the Williams sisters are stars, but the sport could use a Tiger Woods to turn youth tennis into gold in the U.S.
“As far as players who make it on the national stage, I guess you could say we’re in something of a recession,” says Desert View girls tennis coach Stacy Haines. “But youth tennis in Tucson is thriving, especially in the high schools.”
Events such as the just-completed Copper Bowl junior tournament in Tucson have no problem drawing players and crowds.
Tucson is not alone, believes Joey Blake, the owner and director of Scottsdale’s Topnotch tennis academy.
Tennis is convenient to play and a popular recreation but the nation doesn’t seem to be turning its lonely eyes to national heroes such as John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors like it did in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.
“Tiger did a huge thing for golf,” said Blake, a contemporary player of Agassi and Sampras. “A lot more people wanted to play it because of him and the funny thing is people that used to play tennis for business lunches and weekends turned to golf.”
Tennis players around the world are serious about the sport, even if the U.S. doesn’t seem to be.
“In Europe, Asia and South America it’s a different mind-set,” Blake said. “They take it more seriously. A European soccer coach told me, and it applies to tennis, that the difference between them and U.S. youth is the worse thing that can happen here is go on to college.
“We have a great society that allows us to do that. The worse thing that can happen there is they could end up sweeping streets. They put in all the time and effort and they either make it or don’t.
“Serbia has been a war-torn country and they are using drained-out swimming pools for tennis courts.”
Locally, according to Haines, youth teams are getting larger, so the signs are good, “not only at powerhouses such as Salpointe, Sabino and Catalina Foothills but a ‘nontennis’ school such as mine (Desert View).
“For the past several years, we’ve had 30 or more players on our girls teams, and it’s cool to see Pueblo, Sunnyside and Cholla catching up.”
Haines says there is a “glass ceiling,” though, because of the great expense for kids to rise to higher levels. Therefore, a decline in some socioeconomic groups.
“At this year’s Copper Bowl there were dramatically fewer African-Americans and Hispanic players. . . . but every coach I spoke with at the tournament said the same thing – it favors the affluent, not the best athletes.
“That explains why so few Tucson players were competing in a tournament being held in their hometown.”
Blake sees the need for some kind of boon, as with a Tiger who grew up to stardom under the eye of a nation.
“There are a lot of juniors playing but if you ask me where tennis is in the U.S., we’re probably doing better. But we’re a long way from catching up to a Serbia or a Spain.”
Auction for rare card halted
FRESNO, Calif. – Somewhere amid her collection of worn jukeboxes and slot machines, a 72-year-old California woman recently discovered an antique worth saving: a rare baseball card of the first professional team in the United States.
And if it weren’t for the keen intervention of a friend, she would have sold the 1869 card of the Cincinnati Red Stockings on eBay for just $10.
“I didn’t even know baseball existed that far back,” said Bernice Gallego, who owns an antique shop in Fresno, a mid-sized city in the state’s farming region. “I don’t think that I’ve ever been to a baseball game.”
She put a $10 price tag on it, but decided against $15. She pulled it from auction after realizing it could be worth much more when someone asked her to end the auction immediately.
The front of the card features a sepia-toned, gelatin-silver photographic print of the entire team. The reverse is a red-and-white advertisement for Peck & Snyder, a New York sports equipment manufacturer.
Experts at the Los Angeles-based PSA, the leading sports card grading and authenticating company, say the card is authentic and the team photo is relatively unscathed. Sports card collectors prize any card featuring the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who laid the foundation for today’s Major League Baseball.
“They were kind of an All-Star team before that concept really existed,” said Tim Wiles, who directs research at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. “They went around and challenged all comers. They barnstormed around the country and were undefeated.”
The Associated Press
Plenty riding on playoffs
BURBANK, Calif. – A close shave is expected for either the announcer or bandleader on the “Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” based on who wins the Giants-Eagles playoff game Sunday.
Announcer John Melendez, a Giants fan, vows to shave his head if his team loses. Bandleader Kevin Eubanks will shave his mustache if the Eagles don’t win.
Leno’s monologue was repeatedly interrupted by bickering over which team would win Sunday’s NFL divisional playoff game. Leno explained the problem during Wednesday’s monologue.
“We had a bit of an outburst the last couple of nights,” Leno said. “John’s a Giants fan; Kev’s an Eagles fan. To keep them from arguing in the monologue – they kept interrupting me – if the Giants win, Kev has to shave his mustache. If the Eagles win, John has to shave his head.”
The Associated Press
Petty, GEM join forces
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Richard Petty’s famed No. 43 Dodge was rescued from near ruin Thursday when Gillett Evernham Motorsports agreed to merge with Petty’s slumping organization to create a new team.
GEM had been in exclusive negotiations with Petty Enterprises to combine the two teams into one four-car organization, and an agreement in principle was reached Thursday.
The deal is not expected to be closed until the end of the month.
The team will be co-owned by Richard Petty, Petty Holdings – which is owned by majority shareholder Boston Ventures – and Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Ray Evernham, who formed his team in 1999 but sold majority interest to Canadian businessman George Gillett Jr. in 2007, will be a minority owner in the venture.
The name of the new team was not released, but it’s believed the parties are leaning toward re-branding the organization Richard Petty Motorsports to capitalize on the seven-time NASCAR champion’s name.
The Associated Press
Get over the Utah thing, Gimino
Re: Gimino column – Utah deserves chance to be ranked No. 1
• Voting for a non-BCS team is like voting for Ralph Nader at every presidential election – it’s a wasted vote and a total waste of everybody’s time. Unfortunately Utah didn’t play anyone. OLD WARRIOR
• Utah beat four teams in the top 25 and six bowl teams. That stacks up with every other team that is in the national title discussion. ROB L.
• I am afraid if Utah had played at Oregon State, Utah would have lost. Same goes for the BYU game. Strength of schedule. UACATFAN
ON THIS DATE
1942: Joe Louis knocks out Buddy Baer with 4 seconds left in the first round at Madison Square Garden in New York to retain the heavyweight title.
1977: Oakland wins its first NFL title and the Minnesota Vikings drop their fourth Super Bowl as the Raiders post a 32-14 triumph.
1996: The Toronto Raptors set an NBA record by not making a single free throw in a 92-91 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. The expansion Raptors shoot 0-for-3 from the foul line.
2004: Brian Boucher of Phoenix posts his fifth straight shutout in Coyotes’ 2-0 win over Minnesota.