At the US Open this year two Countries stand out as the front runners in the Men's Singles as far as numbers are concerned, Spain and France. Between them they make up just over 28 per cent of the 128 player field or in simple terms they have 22 players , 13 for Spain and 9 for France. That's outrageous when you consider just how many Men's Tennis Professionals there are currently playing the game.
These figures do not count the qualifying event where another dozen or so tried their luck. So if two Countries are dominating World Tennis to such an extent that they make up over a quarter of the field in a Grand Slam what is it that they are doing so well ?
We could play guessing games all night but the obvious reasoning behind it all would have to be good Management from both the Spanish and French Tennis Federations. That's where things start and that's where the decision making commences and it's rather obvious that their ideas are working. I would put a huge emphasis on the training surface also which no doubt is clay as their ground strokes are technically brilliant . Their conditioning is also something that should be noted as you can't play the way they do without being superbly fit. Clay court training and conditioning go hand in hand.
I remember back in the 70's and 80's when three of the four Grand Slams were played on grass, the Australian, US Open and Wimbledon with the French being the only exception to turf. That sort of tennis, while it can be exciting was never going to hold up against the way the game is now played and in particular on what surface it is now played. Grass court tennis is not a surface that anyone trains on anymore because it is not a surface that you can develop any real strengths as the ball does not have a consistent bounce.
That's why clay court training is the best, it's a slower surface, the slowest in the World and it gives players time to prepare. It allows players to groove their shots , grass or a fast indoor hard surface will not allow this luxury. How do you become consistent if the style of game is a rushed one ?
As the Grand Slams , apart from Wimbledon gradually moved away from grass so did the serve and volley style that is now only employed as a surprise tactic. Nine out of ten players are now predominantly baseliners so why do you think nations such as Spain and France are so good ? What they practice on each day is what most Americans and Australian players don't train on , hence the difference in success. Hard court tennis seems to be the choice of most other countries, less maintenance, cost effective.
What Spain and France are doing however is now the benchmark of World Tennis and with success comes more success, it becomes infectious. Young players look up to their Nation's best players, they want to be like them and they are not a rarity in the big tournaments like they are in some Nations. Kids can sit down and watch not just one or two players but up to a dozen perform on the World tennis stage, inspiring. It also helps the players if there are many from one particular Country as the pressure of performance is shared, not just on one or two broad shoulders.
Whatever the reason for the success of these two Countries I believe the rest of the World needs to take notice or they will fall further behind. It may just lay in what surface everyone is currently training on, that would be a good place to start......