Aus­tralia’s net gain

Sunday Mail - - SPORT - PAUL MALONE

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.

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