DEBORAH AMOS, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.
Venus Williams' victory at Wimbledon last week was one of the rare bright spots for American pro tennis players these days. Over on the men's court, Swiss-born Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal from Spain.
Their rivalry dominates the men's scene and only two Americans rank in the top 25. So has America lost its mojo in tennis? U.S. tennis officials say it's not a shortage of talent, just a problem in how we're training young American players.
NPR's Greg Allen has this report from South Florida.
GREG ALLEN: For a look at the future or American tennis, visit the U.S. Tennis Association's high-performance training center on Key Biscayne.
(Soundbite of tennis match)
ALLEN: On even the hottest Florida afternoons you can find some of the nation's most promising junior players training under top coaches. Drills in the morning, matches in the afternoon. Out on the court, Connie Victoria Duvall(ph) is one of the smallest in her group of 11 and 12-year-old girls. But don't let that fool you.
Ms. CONNIE VICTORIA DUVALL (Junior Tennis Player): I won my first tournament at seven.
ALLEN: You did, and you only played a little over a year when you won your first tournament?
Ms. DUVALL: Yeah. My brothers were actually playing and I just told my dad let me try it and I actually won it.
ALLEN: Victoria is from Haiti, but like all those training here, she's either a U.S. citizen or headed in that direction. Her father's an obstetrician in Port-au-Prince. Her mother gave up her practice as a neonatologist to move with her daughter and sons to Florida, where Victoria soon caught the eye of USTA coaches.
She's been training here for two years, home-schooling with her mom and making the daily 120-mile round trip commute from her home in Delray Beach. And it's paid off. She's currently the nation's top ranked player in her age group.
Ms. DUVALL: I was really happy because I'm still 11 and a lot of the girls are really good. And I'm just so happy that I was able to like kind of like get more forward to becoming number one because that was one of my goals.
ALLEN: Another goal, she says, is to be one of the top five or ten players in the world. Her coach, Jay De Louis(ph), says she's got a good shot. Victoria wins many matches, he says, by being a good counterpuncher, getting every ball back.
Mr. JAY DE LOUIS (Tennis Coach): But she uses the court very well with her mind. She makes shots and she - she's an excellent athlete, so that gives her some good ammunition to move higher in the - as she gets older.
Unidentified Man: Get the elbow up, up, up, up, up.
ALLEN: Across the nation, there are many other junior players, boys and girls, as promising as Victoria Duvall. The question many in U.S. tennis had been asking is how do we get them to the top? Paul Roetert, the head of player development for the U.S. Tennis Association, says the answer is simple.
Mr. PAUL ROETERT (United States Tennis Association): This is not brain surgery. The way to get better in tennis is to train with your peers as much as possible, which is the success Nick Bollettieri had in the past with his academy, and to play against each other in tournament-level events as much as possible.
ALLEN: With that model in mind, Roetert of the USTA this fall are moving their training center to the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton.
Players won't just train there. It will be a residential program where the nation's top 14 to 18-year-old players will eat, sleep, and battle each other on a daily basis, creating what John Evert likes to call a competitive hit.
Evert founded the academy with his sister, former tennis champion Chris Evert. Sitting courtside, he says one problem today is there are so many tournaments available to top young players and so many ways to achieve a ranking, that they don't play each other enough.
Mr. JOHN EVERT (Evert Tennis Academy): When I grew up, every best player in the state played a state tournament; that doesn't happen anymore. I mean, you can qualify for nationals without having to play the state tournament. You know, now you can even qualify for the international major juniors without playing nationals.
ALLEN: But there's another question that invariably comes up in tennis circles whenever talk turns to U.S. competitiveness and the future. That's whether young American players are tough enough and want it as much as players from other countries where there are fewer options.
USTA player development head Paul Roetert says he and others in the program take the question of toughness seriously. A few months back, coaches took several of the training center's 16-year-old boys to Southern California and Camp Pendleton for a week of basic training with the Marines.
Mr. ROETERT: And they learned discipline, teamwork, and how to deal with tough situations. They learned anything from how to assemble and disassemble a gun to marching and taking care of each other and watching out for each other, and to a person they said this is the experience they've ever had.
ALLEN: Roetert is optimistic about the state of American competitiveness in tennis because he's seen in the future. He works daily with players like Donald Young and Madison Brengle.
If you don't know their names, you should. Both made it to this year's Junior Finals at Wimbledon, and Young took the men's title.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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