Do Americans suck at tennis?

So the talk of the tennis world in the US can often revolve around why there aren’t as many American players anymore. Where are our up and coming superstars? Where did all these Russians come from? Are we not driven enough? Is tennis just not that popular here? People are used to seeing their American favorites (McEnroe, Evert, Austin, Sampras, Roddick, etc) at the top of the rankings and winning grand slams. The game has gotten much more international with players from all over the world. I wondered- where exactly does the United States stand? Are we really doing as bad as everyone says we are? I’m a pretty avid fan and have noticed fewer American men in the top rankings but the women seem to be doing okay to me, but I wonder what will happen when Venus and Serena retire because it does not seem like anyone is close to making themselves at home in the top 10. Several young phenoms are or were close- Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Melanie Oudin, and Christina McHale, to name a few- but no Serenas in the mix just yet (all of the above still definitely have a shot, though, if you ask me). The last American man to win a grand slam was Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open! Before that, guys like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and John McEnroe ruled the roost.

The below graphs are from data for the top 300 tennis players on the men’s and women’s tours from October 2014. In the first graph, showing the number of players per country per gender, you can see that there are more American players than any other nationality, but the second graph, which shows the number of players per million residents, we Americans rank near the bottom! (Note that in the 2nd graph, only countries with at least 2 players were included).

tennis_players_per_country
Click to enlarge

As much as we think “The Russians are coming!”, I was shocked to see how low they ranked in the per capita list. Many of the world’s more populated countries- China, India, US, Russia, Brazil- are near the bottom of the list or non-existent (Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria). Small countries like Croatia are tennis powerhouses- 4 out of every million Croatians is a pro tennis player (top 300)- impressive! That would be like the state of Ohio having 44 pro players… insane.*

Some interesting things to note are the countries with big disparities between men and women. China has a ton of female players, but almost no male, and it’s reversed for Argentina. France and Spain have lots of male players, while the Czech Republic, Japan, and Russia have much more females. Both Russia and Czech Republic have benefited from a few past superstars, like Anna Kournikova and Martina Navratilova. I’ve also heard that female tennis players like Li Na are huge in China- major celebrities.

The fact that Luxembourg is 2nd on the list does not mean it’s a tennis powerhouse- they have just two players, one male and one female, ranked inside the top 300. Countries like Serbia and Croatia, with 12 and 17 players respectively- now that impresses me. Is it their underdog status and war-torn history that help give the players drive and determination? Do they dream of money and fame and a mansion in Florida or a sweet pad in Monaco? In a future post, I hope to explore reasons and theories behind why some countries excel and others, like America, are seemingly less successful!

*I think Ohio only claims one player, as far as I know- Nicole Gibbs. We kind of have two if you count Chieh-yu (Connie) Hsu, who plays under Taipei but spent a lot of her childhood in Cincinnati (I played her three times in junior tournaments despite being six years older).

EDIT: March 10: Ohio is also the home state of current top 100 player Lauren Davis!

Sources: WTA, ATP

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