Teamwork made the dream work for U.S. women's tennis in 2022
There was a lot for American women’s tennis to celebrate in 2022, and if you ask those involved in USTA Player and Coach Development, that’s no coincidence.
Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula and Dana Mathewson led the way for U.S. women over the last 12 months on the Grand Slam stages and elsewhere, as all three finished in the world’s Top 10 in the WTA and ITF wheelchair rankings, respectively. By reaching the Roland Garros singles and doubles finals, the latter of which came alongside Pegula, Gauff was the youngest Grand Slam finalist in 18 years, while Mathewson became the first American woman to win a wheelchair Grand Slam title when she triumphed with Japan’s Yui Kamiji at Wimbledon in July.
Having been with USTA Player and Coach Development since 2008, the USTA’s head of women’s tennis, Kathy Rinaldi, has had a front-row seat to American women winning some of the sport’s biggest titles for the last 15 years as a coach—and even longer than that when you consider that she was a Top 10 player herself and a peer of Tracy Austin, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
In the top job since 2018—the year after a watershed 2017 US Open saw four American women reach the semifinals—Rinaldi says there’s something special about the current group of Americans, and that X-factor made this year their most collectively-successful in nearly a decade.
“I could talk about this subject all day long,” Rinaldi said in November at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Glasgow, Scotland. “I am super proud of American women's tennis, where it's going, where it's been, and where it's going to continue to go. … It’s just remarkable what's happening and how many great players we have.
“With Madi [Madison Keys, who ended 2022 ranked No. 11] and Danielle [Collins, who reached the Australian Open final in January and is currently No. 14], we could easily have four right now in the [WTA] Top 10. And we have so many behind them that we can flood the Top 100. I truly believe that.”
The USTA National Campus celebrated its five-year anniversary in 2022, and since Lake Nona opened its doors, it’s become a transformative hub for American pros as the home of U.S. tennis. Rinaldi says that having players on campus—whether they train there year-round, stop by before jetting off worldwide for their next tournaments, or utilize the experts in residence to get them ready in preseason—can give them a boost, no matter what stage they’re at in their careers.
The numbers don’t lie, and success begets success: American women won 21 singles and doubles titles on the WTA Tour in 2022, the most of any country, and the most for the U.S. since its women won 22 in 2016. As one of nine U.S. women ranked on the wheelchair tour, Mathewson won six titles between singles and doubles this year—part of a dozen trophies won by U.S. women players on that circuit overall.
“I almost think of USTA Player Development like a center of excellence," Rinaldi said. "We're so fortunate that we have coaches at every level, and coaches at the pro level, including myself, can take back what we see from our top pros and where we see the game going, and bring that back down to the base and make sure that we're giving that young group a solid foundation, not just on the tennis court, but mental skills, nutrition, strength and conditioning, and athletic medicine. We can just really be there to support the players, support the parents, support the private coaches, all working together.
“It's really a great structure because those young ones are coming in, they’re getting to see some of the pros train, some of the transitional pros train who are making that leap from juniors to pros, and if they're lucky enough, they get to partake in a game, or a warm-up, or a lunch or just ask questions. That's what this team is all about.”
Players like Keys and Mathewson are among those top-level talents who’ve relocated to the Orlando area to train at the USTA National Campus full-time. Rinaldi says that their presence has been a game-changer in more ways than one: Beginning in 2019, the USTA made a historic decision to integrate wheelchair tennis into its able-bodied tennis operations, and having Mathewson among the ranks has been a large asset. “She's just part of women's tennis now. It's not wheelchair tennis, or wheelchair women's tennis, it's women's tennis,” Rinaldi said. “That has also been crucial to taking U.S. women’s tennis to new heights across the board.”
When Serena Williams left Arthur Ashe Stadium in September for what might’ve been the final time, a long and illustrious chapter of women’s tennis—and sport as a whole—closed. But thanks to the collective exploits of U.S. players in 2022 from the top down, the future is bright—and Rinaldi says that the seeds sewn this season can keep the sport thriving for years, and even decades, to come.
“It's to these girls' credit how great they are with the younger players,” she said. “They inspire, but they take the time to talk with the young players, and that's priceless. It's how they give back to the sport, pay it forward, and it's paying off.”