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Why aren’t American men winning Grand Slams?

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While Serena and Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys continue to represent America at the world’s top tennis tournaments, the men’s side has not seen a Grand Slam winner since Andy Roddick in 2003. Katrina Adams, the U.S. Tennis Association’s first-ever black president, told NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker that bringing more communities into the game should change that. This is part of an ongoing series of reports called “Chasing the Dream,” which reports on poverty and opportunity in America.

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  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Even though it has been nearly twenty years since Katrina Adams last played professionally, fans still clamor to have their picture taken with her.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    As the first former professional player to serve as chairman of the board and president of the us tennis association and chair of the us open, adams has one of the broadest resumes in tennis. From her earliest days learning to play in Chicago, to her 12 years on the world tennis tour, she has lived and breathed the game for most of her life. Christopher Booker:

  • KATRINA ADAMS:

    It's live. It's happening. It's show time. It's vibrant.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    But when Katrina Adams started playing tennis in 1975, it was arthur ashe who everyone wanted a picture of. Seven years after his 1968 us open win had blown open the doors of us tennis for african american men, Ashe was a sensation.

  • KATRINA ADAMS:

    It meant a lot to see him playing this sport that I had just picked up. You go back to 1968 . And you look at what was happening in America from a civil rights perspective from a humanitarian perspective. And then you see Arthur Ashe win and raise that trophy and you know there's no greater moment in history I think for us in tennis than that because it really started to transcend and transform how tennis was viewed in America.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Ashe's additional grand slam wins Australia in 1970, and Wimbledon in 1975, established him as one the world's greatest. But his triumphs stand as the last time an American male player of color has won each event.

    Michael Chang won the French Open in 1989, the last time a non-white, American man has played in a grand slam singles final. In 1996 he was the last American male person of color to even appear in a grand slam final.

    American men have won 98 of the 364 grand slams played since 1924, only 6 of those were by people of color. Just over 6%

    The numbers have been improving. Of the 18 Americans playing in this year's U.S. Open, four are players of color. 29-year-old Donald Young, 23-Year-old Mackenzie Mcdonald, 20-year-old Michael Mmoh and 20-year-old-Frances Tiafoe. That represents 22 percent of the male u.S players.

  • KATRINA ADAMS:

    They are continuing to rise in the ranks. We've had a couple of good years here. You've got a couple of other younger youngsters coming up in Francis Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Macky Macdonald had an unbelievable showing at Wimbledon. So there were a lot of players that are in the pipeline that are that are coming up and in time they will be back at the top of the ranks.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    An integral part of developing this pipeline, is finding and cultivating untapped talent in underrepresented communities.

    After winning the U.S. Open in 1968, Arthur Ashe co-founded the National Junior Tennis League, the NJTL.

    Since its founding, hundreds of thousands of kids in underserved areas across the country have gone through programs under the NJTL

  • ANNESSA TAYLOR:

    If I tap you you, I want you to step forward to this line.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    The Junior Tennis Champions Center, the JTCC, has been bringing free tennis lessons in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area for nearly a decade.

  • ANNESSA TAYLOR:

    Can I have a high-five? That was dope.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Throughout the 8-weeks, Coach Annessa Taylor and the other coaches are watching closely, looking for one or two kids who not only show ability, but seem particularly interested in tennis.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    What makes one kid stand out from another at this level?

  • ANNESSA TAYLOR:

    It is almost that glow or that excitement to be here. You can tell that one kid who has never picked up a racket before but they're happy to have a racket in their hand and they're eager to learn when they're sitting there hugging their racquets when they swing, and then they're ready position, when they're focused on the ball. I think that's when you really see that potential in that kid because they're like I can do this. I can focus. I love it.

  • ANNESA TAYLOR:

    "hmm, let's try with this one."

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Of the roughly 400 children who participate in the clinics, about 30 will be offered scholarships to attend training sessions at jtcc's facility in College Park Maryland.

    And those scholarships are key. For a handful players, it be the beginning of a tennis and education program that can last until they are eighteen. Many of whom have go on to play in college and professionally.

    13-year-old Robin Montgomery, who started in one of these programs, won the junior national title this year.

    And scholarships helped Frances Tiafoe train at the center since he was 8-years-old. Now at age 20, Tiafoe is ranked 45th in the world.

  • JUSTICE JONES:

    Younger players like Frances are bringing up tennis in this community, so more players are wanting to play.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    19-year-old justice jones started at the jtcc when he was 5-years-old. Now a sophomore in college, he plays for the University of Delaware.

  • JUSTICE JONES:

    I definitely think my generation, and including me, we are part of a change in the game, because usually people like me, they just want to play basketball, football, and all those other sports, but we are pushing to play tennis now."

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    But tennis can be an expensive journey if you want to play competitively.

  • KATRINA ADAMS:

    Our sport is very cheap to get involved. It's free for the most part to learn how to play. But once you develop and you start to get on a competitive track it's not so cheap.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    The JTCC estimates that if a young person goes through their full-time development program, it comes with a price tag of nearly $300,000 dollars.

    There is the cost of coaching, cost of travel to tournaments, entry fees and equipment. All of which is paid for by the individual, not a team.

  • KATRINA ADAMS:

    Even though we have you know hundreds of programs around the country. If your parents aren't in a position to even have the resources to find that program it's not their first thought because they're saying ok you can make 100 million dollars over here playing basketball or football or baseball. You might make a hundred thousand dollars playing tennis.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Now for women, it is the same, but the external factors are different. If you are a top-tier athletic woman, there are few professional leagues for you to play in. Certainly nothing as lucrative as tennis can be for the top players.

    But if you're a male, stand out athlete like LeBron James', who grew up playing on the basketball courts in Akron, Ohio. The courts of the U.S. Open may have seemed like a less lucrative option.

  • KATRINA ADAMS:

    He's a phenomenal athlete. I think if he chose tennis and he wanted to be the next Arthur Ashe as African-American grand slam champion he probably would have been that. I would say and I would hope that a lot of the things that we're putting in place now that it takes time for that seeds to be watered and starts to grow and strengthen and maybe five to 10 years away from really seeing an influx of talent or color.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    And what happens is Frances Tiafoe wins this year?

  • KATRINA ADAMS:

    Francis Tiafoe wins the Open this year I'm going to do cartwheels. I'll tell you that would be amazing to see that happen. I mean obviously you've got the likes of Rafa Nadal Roger Federer Novak Djokovic sauces these top guys that are playing really well. And you know I think he's primed to do well. But it's anybody's match at the end of the day. And I think if we can get him on that final stage on television when the world is to then we can get more young kids of color that are watching him perhaps he can just start that wave that would be in essence day.

  • Editor’s Note:

    Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

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