Rafael Nadal is one of the most revered athletes in the world, and his recent U.S. Open victory was celebrated by Spanish-speaking fans from Spain to Argentina to Colombia to Chile to Miami. Tens of thousands of Hispanic fans show up in Key Biscayne every March for the Sony Open.
Nevertheless, Hispanic-American tennis players are virtually nonexistent on the professional tours. Not since the days of Mary Joe Fernandez, born in Dominican Republic and raised in Miami, has there been a prominent Hispanic player in this country. In fact, Fernandez, now an ESPN commentator, was the only recognizable Hispanic-American tennis figure at the recent U.S. Open.
The sport has a much better record in the black community, with Serena Williams perhaps the best female player of all time, her sister, Venus, also a multiple Grand Slam winner, and rising talents Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Victoria Duval, Sachia Vickery and Taylor Townsend. James Blake, who retired during the Open, had a nice career, and some young black players such as Donald Young are making strides.
There are no Hispanic-Americans among the men’s top 300 players, and the only women with Latin roots are 72nd-ranked Christina McHale, whose mother is Cuban, and No. 115 Maria Sanchez, a Mexican-American and former All-American at University of Southern California.
The U.S. Tennis Association, well aware of the void, continues to establish grassroots programs to try to attract young Hispanic talent.
USTA Florida and its Hispanic outreach initiative, “ Tenis para Todos,” recently started a program at JD Redd Park in Homestead. On Sept. 7 a tennis festival was held and attended by 200 adults and children. The University of Miami women’s tennis team participated and offered a free clinic for the kids.
Similar events are scheduled for Sept. 28 at the Ocean Club in Key Biscayne and Oct. 5 at JD Redd Park. The USTA launched a Spanish website www.tenisparatodos.com, with information on how to get involved at local parks.
“It is a great feeling to bring tennis to a community who is new to the sport and to see the excitement on everyone’s faces,” said Maria Romo-Jackson, USTA Florida Diversity and Marketing Coordinator. “I am confident that through ‘ Tenis para Todos,’ the support from the City of Homestead and the variety of programs offered, the residents of this community are going to fall in love with tennis.”
Patrick McEnroe is the USTA director of player development and an ESPN analyst. He has been addressing the Hispanic question for years.
“We need to do a much better job of reaching out to Hispanic-Americans,” he said. “Tennis is hugely popular in South America and Spain, Rafa is an international star, and yet, Spanish-speaking kids here are not choosing our sport.
“We should have huge numbers of Hispanic kids playing tennis in places like Miami, Southern California, New York and Chicago, and we don’t. Those kids are playing soccer and other sports. My guess is it’s an economic issue, and a cultural issue. We are doing much better with African-Americans and Asian-Americans. I see lots of those kids playing at our regional centers, but very few Hispanics.”
• United States-Britain rivalry: The United States drew Great Britain in the first round of the 2014 Davis Cup, renewing the oldest rivalry in Davis Cup history. The United States beat Great Britain in the first Davis Cup in 1900 and leads the series 11-7.
“Great Britain will be a challenging and exciting opponent for us,” U.S. captain Jim Courier said. “It’s going to be memorable to have the two original Davis Cup nations face off again for the first time since … 1999.”
The United States plays host to the first-round matches Jan. 31 through Feb. 2 at a site to be determined. Among the other interesting matchups, Switzerland plays at Serbia, setting up a possible showdown between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Serbia plays defending champion Czech Republic for the 2013 Davis Cup title in November. The Czechs are led by Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek.
Other 2014 matchups: Australia at France, Italy at Argentina, Canada at Japan and Spain at Germany.