USTA hires Blackman to follow McEnroe for player development
Martin Blackman has coached top junior players at tennis academies and worked for the USTA at the national level.
He'll lean on both experiences in his new role as the U.S. Tennis Association's general manager of player development.
The 45-year-old Blackman, a former top junior himself who spent six years on tour, will succeed Patrick McEnroe in the job, the USTA announced Monday. He's tasked with finding the best way for the federation to help nurture the next generation of American stars.
No U.S. man has reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal since 2012, and none has won a major singles title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. Both the present and the future are much brighter on the women's side, though no one other than the Williams sisters has reached a Grand Slam final since 2005.
''It's a question of windows. So we were blessed with Sampras, Courier, Agassi, Wheaton, Chang, and then with Roddick, Fish and Blake. We've been blessed with Serena and Venus,'' Blackmon said during a conference call. ''But now the role of the federation in facilitating the development of a world-class player is much greater. That's why we opened the window six years ago when Patrick was hired, and we're starting to see the fruit right now.''
The challenge is seeking a balance between guidance from the USTA and players' individualized work with their personal coaches. The federation had tried a more centralized approach in recent years but now is focused on how to supplement the instruction players receive at their own training centers.
Blackman brings a background in both sides. While serving as director of a junior training center in College Park, Maryland, he proposed that the USTA partner with its best programs around the country. Blackman was hired by the USTA in 2009 and oversaw the implementation of that idea as the Regional Training Center network. As senior director of talent identification and development, he also helped lead coaching education and headed the player development department's diversity and inclusion efforts.
Blackman left the USTA in late 2011 to found his own tennis academy in Boca Raton, Florida.
''We have to be flexible in the way that we relate to players, parents and coaches,'' he said. ''It's not a `one size fits all' solution. The way the game is going, the resources that are needed to develop a top player, it's very difficult to do that without some support from the federation.''
As a junior, Blackman trained alongside Andre Agassi and Jim Courier with coach Nick Bollettieri. He won the USTA boys' 16s national title and was a member of two NCAA championship teams at Stanford. As a pro from 1989-95, Blackman reached a career-best ranking of 158th in 1994. He later coached at American University.
Blackman said the USTA needed to encourage young players to stick with the process and not try to jump up a level in competition too quickly. With the top pros now peaking at older ages, he believes that college should become part of the path to playing on tour for more Americans.
Blackman, who is African-American, said tennis leaders must reach out to a more diverse base of potential players, making the game more accessible and spreading the word about it.
McEnroe, the younger brother of seven-time major champion John, said in September he was leaving the post after 6 1/2 years. He said then that, for personal and professional reasons, he did not want to be based full time at the USTA's planned $60 million tennis center in the Lake Nona area of Orlando, Florida.
McEnroe stayed on with the USTA to help with the transition to his former doubles partner at Stanford.