Australia’s net gain
FOR too many years to count, the debate has been what’s wrong with Australian tennis.
Less spectacularly, evidence has built this year for the question to be cautiously asked: “What’s going right with Australian tennis?”.
The year-end rankings in 2018 will have six Australian men in the top 100 and 12 in the top 200. There are seven top-200 Aussie women, with four top-100 players, headed by world No. 15 Ash Barty.
One year in the last decade, Lleyton Hewitt was the only Australian man in the world’s top 100. This year is the first in 17 when Australia has had four top-50 men. In terms of depth, Australia’s count of 12 in the current top 200 compares encouragingly to tennis superpowers such as Spain (17), France (16) and Germany (14).
“It’s pretty good for men and women compared to where we were five years ago, say,’’ Tennis Australia head of men’s tennis Wally Masur said.
“It’s pretty cyclical and we have always got work to do. We had one Australian only in the ITF junior Grand Slams this year but we have more boys and girls there next year.’’
Australian tennis has questioned its assumptions repeatedly over the 20 years since Pat Rafter, Mark Philippoussis and Hewitt held top-20 positions at the same time. They made seven Grand Slam finals between them.
TA’s national academies model has held sway for more than a decade, with sites based in each mainland capital. TA provides on-the-road coaching access for select players until it is felt they are old enough, some in their mid-twenties, to fund their own careers.
One of the world’s outstanding teenagers, Alex de Minaur benefited from the TA program in Sydney for four years in his early teens but has been based with his family in Alicante, Spain, since he was 16. The ATP Newcomer of 2018 Award winner followed a similar clay-court training path to that of three-time major winner Andy Murray, who left Scotland to live in Barcelona when he was 15.
De Minaur and Francebased 19-year-old Alexei Popyrin, the 2017 French junior champion, ranked 152nd, have made rapid progress this year.
“It was (TA executives) Machar Reid and Scott Draper who came up with a principle that if we had 90 per cent (of emerging players) based in Australia and 10 per cent based overseas (and receiving funding by TA), that’s acceptable,’’ Masur said.
“It’s been borne out of that that we can have different ways to support them on their journey.
“Both de Minaur and Popyrin have European parents, so it’s not a stretch that they live in Europe.
“The ones in the top 200 are mostly pretty young and most of them can be good players for a decade.’’
Florida-based Jordan Thompson, 24, has worked his way back into the top 100 with two Challenger tournament titles.
“I’m about strength in numbers that if we get as many players as possible in the top 100 it is inevitable draws will open up for someone at a big tournaments,’’ said John Millman, who has risen an impressive 90 places in the rankings this year to No. 38.