Craig Mercer: “Decline of the Tennis Superpower?”

In my previous article on Spain I outlined my general conclusions on "Why Spain is so Good: The Seven Spanish Secrets to World Tennis Dominance". There are many things to be learned from our Spanish friends about developing players to become professionals; however there are some potential weaknesses and threats which could lead to a decline in their success. In this article I will share a few thoughts on why Spanish tennis development could suffer a decline.

Written by: Craig Mercer

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***Craig Mercer is currently the Director of Operations at ACE Tennis and the Head Coach of ACE Tennis at the newly acquired Howard Park Tennis Club location. Ranked as high as #3 in Canadian junior tennis, Craig competed in more than 20 Junior Nationals for Team Atlantic and Team Quebec. Craig has a Masters of Sports Management, is a Tennis Canada Coach 2 and is currently pursuing his Coach 3. A Team Ontario provincial coach, Craig has a deep interest in the growth and development of our sport in this country. ***

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In my previous article on Spain I outlined my general conclusions on “Why Spain is so Good: The Seven Spanish Secrets to World Tennis Dominance”. There are many things to be learned from our Spanish friends about developing players to become professionals; however there are some potential weaknesses and threats which could lead to a decline in their success. In this article I will share a few thoughts on why Spanish tennis development ccould suffer a decline.

One overriding domestic issue in particular is already causing problems in the tennis arena. Since 2008 Spain has seen a major hit to its economy. The continuing Spanish financial crisis has had a significant impact on individuals and corporations; the unemployment rate in Spain hit a record 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013 and average income is very low compared to the rest of Europe. The tennis community is not sheltered from these realities.

In my previous article I argued that one of the major reasons for the success of Spanish tennis is that they offer many tournaments at all levels, especially for entry-level professionals i.e. Futures. Note the recent trend in numbers of Men’s Futures events hosted in Spain: 2008 – 43, 2009 – 37, 2010 – 42, 2011 – 39, 2012 – 29, 2013 – 24.

A key reason given by some of the people I met with was a decline in sponsorship support for these events. While 24 Futures per year is still an impressive number, the sharp drop over the past couple of years is worrying and the decline could persist unless the overall economy begins to rebound. In speaking with players who compete in Futures events, and who live and train in Barcelona, one can sense the concern. They are worried that soon enough there will not be sufficient competitive opportunities and players may have to spend more time farther afield.

Another key factor in the success of Spanish tennis is the outstanding commitment and passion of the coaches. The fact is however, that there are many coaches in Spain who are concerned about how the economy is affecting the sport in their country. As they see Futures events decline they worry about trickle-down effects. Players are moving elsewhere to train, local players are starting to travel farther to tournaments and thus their money for coaching, fitness, physiotherapy and all the other day to day expenses is beginning to dwindle. The same goes for the coaches. There seem to be many coaches in Spain looking elsewhere for career opportunities. With the economy so weak many coaches are not making a good living and see their counterparts in other developed countries doing much better. Not only are good Spanish coaches increasingly likely to consider leaving, but many professionals who earn high incomes and would be able to afford to support their kid’s tennis are already leaving. Will we see a consequent reduction in participation in tennis programs in the clubs? It is the clubs, after all, which feed the academies.

I am by no means making the bold statement, based on a one week tennis whirlwind visit, that Spanish tennis performance is doomed to dwindle. However, it is clear that there are people in the Spanish tennis community who are asking the same question: “Will we soon see the decline of the tennis superpower”?

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