It’s another double fault for Australian tennis

Date: October 31, 2012 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

As of today, Australia’s highest ranked male tennis player is Marinko Matosevic who has moved to number 47 in the world, two places ahead of Bernard Tomic.

With no disrespect to Matosevic, it represents the continuing decline of Australian men’s tennis.

A once proud tennis nation has little to hang its hat on nowadays.

With the exception of Sam Stosur, a recent women’s US Open champion and current world number nine with a career high of four, the tennis cupboard is bare, especially in the men’s game.

Matosevic, at 27 years of age, has a career singles grand slam record of 0-7.

Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter is yet to call upon his services.

Perennial warrior Lleyton Hewitt, at number 81, is the only other Australian male currently inside the top-100.

It has been over two years since the dual grand slam winner has been inside the top-50.

He is in the twilight of a glorious career that saw him reach the coveted world number one ranking at the age of 20, the youngest to have reached the sport’s pinnacle.

He continues to drag his battle weary body around the court and, as always, he pushes it to the limit.

Arguably his greatest weapon has been his mental strength.

His never say die attitude has seen him stage some of the sport’s most memorable comebacks, most notably his epic against Roger Federer in the 2003 Davis Cup semi-finals where he came from two sets down to triumph in five.

It is hard not to contrast Hewitt’s grit with the seemingly mental ebb and flow that has beset Tomic.

There is no doubting Tomic’s ability – his quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon last year is testament to that.

But too many times he has loped around as if he would rather be anywhere other than on the court.

Rafter has been one who has publicly decried Tomic’s attitude.

Men’s tennis in Australia needs more players in the Hewitt mould.

Success at international level demands a tough mental approach.

Many would argue that the tennis landscape has changed significantly since the halcyon days of the sport in Australia.

There is no escaping the fact that the sport has become more global in the past 30 years, but so too have many others.

One of the best like for like comparisons is golf, a similarly single participant sport.

Whilst it has not grown to the multinational level of tennis it is still an incredibly widespread, cutthroat sport.

In recent years Australia has produced some outstanding results in the men’s game, headlined by Geoff Ogilvy’s US Open win in 2006.

Ogilvy reached a career high world ranking of three, as has Adam Scott, who went so close to snaring this year’s British Open.

He has spent 229 weeks during his career inside the world top ten.

Jason Day has reached number seven, Stuart Appleby number eight and Robert Allenby number 12.

Each has won significant tournaments on the world stage.

The same cannot be said for our male tennis players.

Lleyton Hewitt’s victory in the final of the Halle grass court tournament in Germany in June 2010 is the only win by an Australian male on the ATP Tour in the past 42 months.

It is worth remembering that to win a tennis major you need to beat just seven opponents and those opponents are pre-determined by who beats who in the lead-up.

Often what looks like a horror draw pre-tournament can change dramatically should a seeded player or two be eliminated early.

By contrast, the winner of the US Open Golf Championship has to top a field of 156 players, a feat Ogilvy achieved six years ago.

First round losers in every ATP tournament receive a cheque while for a golfer to have a payday he has to make the cut and participate on the weekend.

Perhaps this has something to do with the plight of men’s tennis in Australia.

Over recent years Tennis Australia (TA) has placed much of its focus on the Australian Open.

The staging of a successful major at times appears to be the major performance indicator for the sport in this country.

TA recently had the opportunity to install Paul McNamee as its president.

A man of his experience is perhaps what the sport needs in Australia.

Nobody would expect Australia to revisit the glory days of the 1960s and ‘70s, but it would be a crying shame if the current state of men’s tennis in this country becomes the long-term norm.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 30 October 2012