In a most memorable year, these eleven highlights all rated a "10" for tennis fans.
From the game’s grass roots to the pinnacles of the professional ranks, 2011 was a very good year for U.S. tennis and the USTA. From coast to coast, the popularity of the sport for a lifetime found vibrant new life, as players young and old reveled in the joy of sets. It was a year in which exciting new initiatives helped get more kids in the game, helping to build a stronger foundation for the sport’s future. It was a year illuminated by the brilliance of a legion of young stars and the undiminished glow of the game’s established luminaries. It was a year in which the sport found it had friends in high places. And it was a year that provided the sort of memories that will last a lifetime.
Here are just some of the highlights of a most remarkable year:
10 and Under Tennis—Growing Strong
10 and Under Tennis continued its growth throughout 2011, with an increase in players, programs and courts—with more to come in 2012.
The largest youth initiative in USTA history, 10 and Under Tennis scales the game to size for its youngest players, with shorter courts, slower-moving and lower-bouncing balls, and lighter and shorter racquets. In 2011, this initiative was unveiled in full to tennis providers—clubs, parks and recreation agencies, etc.—and to consumers through a series of national and local programs, as well as through the revamped 10andUnderTennis.com website, meeting with rave reviews all around. Moreover, 10 and Under Tennis made headway with racquets and balls geared just for kids now available in stores throughout the country, and more and more parents and kids are playing tennis at home, be it on a driveways, playground or any improvised court.
In all, more than 3,000 courts for kids 10 and Under were constructed in 2011, either through blended lines (lines for 36- and/or 60-foot courts laid down on top of a traditional 78-foot court) or stand-alone 36- or 60-foot courts; more than 20,000 of Play Days were held to introduce kids to tennis in a fun, engaging, low-pressure setting; more than 4,000 providers registered on 10andUnderTennis.com; and more than 7,000 participants registered to learn the best practices to teach kids the game through the USTA’s QuickStart Tennis Workshops.
10 and Under Tennis will only grow bigger and better in the coming year. The local investment markets, where the USTA is dedicating time and money to grow 10 and Under Tennis, will expand from 26 to 40-plus, and the roles of tournaments will shift with the implementation of a rule change passed by the USTA and the ITF mandating that all tournament competition for kids 10 and under must be played using the rules and regulations of 10 and Under Tennis.
Courting Kids with Free Membership
In an effort to break down the barriers that kept kids from getting involved in tennis, the USTA in 2011 unveiled its free first-year junior membership offer. The offer, exclusive to first-time members 10 and under, was initially planned to expire at the end of the year but has now been expanded to run through 2012.
The goal of the free first-year junior membership offer is to provide the opportunity for more kids to enroll in more programs in more places, all while delivering the tennis news, gear and guides that help turn first-time participants into lifelong players and fans. It does so by granting a free one-year USTA junior membership, which is required to enroll in many tournaments, leagues and programs around the country.
The offer has so far been an unqualified success, with more than 35,000 kids signing up for the free first-year junior membership in the first six months of the program alone.
Friends in High Places
10 and Under Tennis was everywhere in 2011, from local courts to the US Open to the White House, as both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama took part in a series of events in conjunction with the USTA’s partnership with the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative.
For the second straight year, 10 and Under Tennis made an appearance at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll in April. President Obama made an unscheduled to stop to try his hand at the scaled-down game and hit some balls with a few lucky children and tennis stars, including six-time US Open champion Chris Evert.
The First Lady then attended her first US Open and, before watching tennis with her daughters, played 10 and Under Tennis in SmashZone with a number of local kids. It was part of her promotion and collaboration with the USTA to encourage young people to become active, try tennis and to lead healthy lifestyles—all are central components of Let’s Move, which works to combat childhood obesity.
A few weeks later, 10 and Under Tennis made its way back to Washington D.C., as part of SmashZone Mobile Tour for Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play. Four courts attracted all kinds of fans, including a few used to playing on much different courts: NBA superstars LeBron James and Chris Paul.
SmashZone Hits the Road
SmashZone hit the road this summer, covering more than 13,000 miles and visiting 19 cities. The interactive tennis experience geared toward kids—a staple of the US Open—launched in Atlanta and wrapped up in Washington, D.C., at Nickelodeon’s World Wide Day of Play. In between, it traveled to a total of 47 events across the country with an overall attendance of more than 627,000.
A major highlight of the 18-week tour was bringing SmashZone to the tornado victims of Joplin, Mo. The June 30 event took place at Missouri Southern State University in an effort to boost the spirits of local children and families. As part of its visit, the USTA donated a total of $100,000 to the city of Joplin to assist in disaster relief efforts.
A decade from now, 2011 may be looked back on as the year that launched a new generation of American tennis stars. This was evident at the US Open, where eight players 22 or younger won at least one round, with Irina Falconi, Vania King, Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens and Donald Young all defeating seeded players en route to the third round or better. Moreover, McHale asserted herself as the youngest player in the women’s Top 50 and Stephens as the youngest player in the Top 100, while Ryan Harrison ascended to a career-best No. 66 in August, joining Australia’s Bernard Tomic as one of only two teenagers in the men’s Top 100.
In the junior ranks, Bjorn Fratangelo became the first American to win the French Open boys’ singles title since John McEnroe in 1977, Grace Min won the Wimbledon girls’ doubles title and the US Open girls’ singles title, Jack Sock became the first USTA Boys’ 18s champion to win a round in the main draw of the US Open since Justin Gimelstob in 1996, and Marcos Giron became just the second boy to win the Easter Bowl and the USTA International Spring Championships in back-to-back weeks (joining Sam Querrey).
In total, seven Americans claimed titles at the 2011 US Open, but none was as surprising as the mixed doubles title won by Melanie Oudin, then 19, and Jack Sock, then 18. The duo, which needed a wild card to gain entry into the main draw, became the first pair of teenagers to win a US Open mixed doubles title in the Open era by defeating the top seeds and defending champions Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan in the second round and topping the No. 8 seeds Gisela Dulko and Eduardo Schwank in the final, 7-6, 4-6, [10-8]. Oudin and Sock won super tie-breaks in three of the four matches they won. (They received a walkover in the semifinals.)
The other American champions at the US Open were Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond (women’s doubles), Grace Min (girls’ singles), David Wagner (quad singles and quad doubles) and Nick Taylor (quad doubles).
A Brilliant Brother Act
Bob and Mike Bryan continued their assault on the tennis record books in 2001, equaling the Open era record for Grand Slam men’s doubles titles by winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles. Those victories gave the Bryans 11 for their career, matching the mark set by Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (1992-2000), and also ensured that they would finish No. 1 in the world for the third straight year, the sixth time in the last seven years and for the seventh time overall.
In 2010, the Bryans surpassed the Woodies as the winningest men’s doubles team of the Open era when they captured their 62nd career title at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles. The Wimbledon win was the 73rd of the Bryans’ careers.
Agassi Finds Fame
Andre Agassi took his place among the greatest players in tennis history in the summer of 2011 when he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., alongside contributor Peachy Kellmeyer. Agassi, a former world No. 1 who won the Olympic gold medal and eight Grand Slam singles titles, including two US Open titles on his way to the career Grand Slam, was inducted by his wife, fellow Hall of Famer Steffi Graf.
In his speech, Agassi relived the highs and lows of his storied career, telling the assembled crowd, "I’m thrilled and humbled and quite terrified, to be honest, to stand in front of you. I’ve grown up in front of you. You’ve seen my ups and downs. You’ve given me compassion, understanding and love, more than I expected—and many times more than I deserved."
Debuting a Stellar Showcase
In 2011, the US Open unveiled a new stadium court for the first time since Arthur Ashe Stadium in 1997 with the debut of Court 17. The court seated 2,800 in 2011, making it the fourth-largest on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and it was hailed by players and fans alike, who commented on the proximity of the fans to the playing surface and to its unique feel—unlike any other court on the grounds, Court 17 is sunk 7 feet into the ground to provide a more intimate environment.
That intimacy made it a favorite among the American players, who could count on robust crowd support. Not surprisingly, Court 17 served as the site of some of the tournament’s most stirring moments, including Donald Young’s five-set upset of No. 14 seed Stanislas Wawrinka, John Isner’s fourth-round victory over No. 12 Gilles Simon and the all-American mixed doubles match between upstarts Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock against veterans Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan (won by Oudin and Sock in a third-set super tie-break).
Two Americans walked away with the titles for the first time in the eight-year history of the US Open Series, with Serena Williams claiming the women’s title and Mardy Fish cruising to the men’s crown.
Serena entered the summer season having never won a US Open Series event since its debut in 2004 and having played just two tournaments in the past year due to injury and illness, but she wasted little time getting acclimated to the North American hard courts. She won the first women’s Series event of the summer in Stanford, Calif., and adding a second title two weeks later in Toronto to hold off Carlsbad, Calif., champion Agnieszka Radwanska and Cincinnati champion Maria Sharapova for the 2011 crown.
Fish, meanwhile, won the men’s title with room to spare. He entered four Series events and reached at least the semifinals in each, with a victory in Atlanta and runner-up showings in Los Angeles and Montreal. In all, he outpaced second-place finisher Novak Djokovic by 60 points, the largest gap between the top two finishers in men’s Series history. John Isner placed third.
Mixing It Up
The US Open National Playoffs returned in 2011, again giving anyone and everyone 14 and over a chance to qualify for the US Open. The 2011 version, however, added a new wrinkle, with mixed doubles joining the men’s and women’s singles flights, and with the winners of the mixed doubles gaining direct entry into the main draw.
The winners of the inaugural mixed doubles title were Christina Fusano and David Martin, who between them have won 31 USTA Pro Circuit doubles titles. The duo won the USTA Southern Sectional Qualifying Tournament and then prevailed at the US Open National Playoffs – Mixed Doubles Championship to earn the main-draw berth. There, the two acquitted themselves nicely, falling to No. 5 seeds Daniela Hantuchova and Mark Knowles, 6-2, 7-5.
Blake Strode, who deferred Harvard Law School to pursue a professional tennis career, won the US Open National Playoffs men’s title for a second straight year to earn a wild card into qualifying, where he reached the second round. And American teenager Robin Anderson was the upset winner of the women’s title, prevailing over a series of more experienced opponents.
Overall, 1,380 participants competed in 2011—1,223 unique players as some competed in both singles and doubles—including 690 in the men’s singles, 306 in the women’s singles and 384 in mixed doubles. That total is up from 1,232 in 2010.