By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
NEW YORK – As four of the greatest players in tennis history take the court at Madison Square Garden tonight for the BNP Paribas Showdown, the professional game is not the only aspect of tennis that will be on display.
For the first time in a nationally televised professional match, 60-foot blended lines will be used on a 78-foot regulation court, as 10 and Under Tennis will be showcased on one of sport’s biggest stages at the world’s most famous arena on Tennis Night in America.
Prior to John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl playing the first match, followed by Pete Sampras against Andre Agassi, local kids will play 10 and Under Tennis, using the QuickStart Tennis play format, on the 60-foot blended lines.
10 and Under Tennis scales the game of tennis down to the size of the child, utilizing not just a smaller court but smaller racquets and lower compression balls, as well, that make learning and playing the game easier and more fun for children.
The goal is to get more kids playing tennis by giving them properly sized equipment that makes playing more enjoyable and allows them to have more potential for success. The USTA is also hosting over 700 youth registration events at tennis facilities across the country throughout the month of March to sign more kids up for tennis programming.
"This is an important initiative for us. It is an important night for the USTA because Tennis Night in America has become a national platform for our sport," said Jon Vegosen, USTA Chairman of the Board and President. "The showdown and Tennis Night in America will serve as the launch for a month-long effort by the USTA to get kids and families to register for tennis programming in their communities across the country.
"The bottom line is we need to make our sport easier to learn, more fun and more accessible to kids," he added. "That is what our 10 and Under Tennis initiative is all about – bringing the sport to kids in new ways to keep them coming back. We are teaching children the sport with the right-sized equipment. This evening you will see the first professional televised match on a court that features blended lines. To have players like Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl competing on a court with blended lines is a huge step for the sport of tennis and a great way to showcase 10-and-under tennis to the world."
Other sports have scaled their games down to the size of children for years with smaller fields and lighter, smaller equipment, including Little League baseball and soccer. Kids can now find 19-, 21-, 23- and 25-inch racquets, whichever one suits their size, as well as lower-compression balls to play with on the 60-foot courts.
"The USTA is really committed to a huge push to get more young kids into the game, not only introducing them to the game but getting them competing," said Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s Chief Executive, Community Tennis. "The court size with slower, lower bouncing balls will allow kids to get in the game and compete at an early age. We think it is going to introduce the game to millions of more kids over the years.
"Regardless of the size or age of your child, you can get a racquet that is right for them," he added. "We are also very excited that the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is going to have red felt and orange felt balls in 2,500 stores this year. That is a message 10 and Under Tennis is for real, and balls and racquets will be readily available wherever you can find tennis equipment."
Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of USTA Player Development and former star on the ATP Tour, thinks it is best for young kids to learn on the 60-foot courts instead of regulation size, especially for those around 5 to 7 years of age, both in the technical aspects of their game and their enjoyment levels.
"We are seeing kids who are quite good at about 9 years old. They have quite a few technical flaws in their game, and we think a lot of that stems from the fact that they are playing too early on a full-sized court with regulation balls," McEnroe said. "We feel if they play with smaller courts and softer balls at a younger age, their swing pattern will be more solid and more consistent. They will develop an all-court game, and developmentally they will improve and be able to play a more varied style of tennis than if they strictly play on a full-size court from the time they start playing."
In fact, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) approved a new rule change that will take effect in January 2012 that will require all 10-and-under tournaments to be played using the slower-moving, lower-bouncing balls on smaller courts and with smaller racquets. It will apply to all USTA-sanctioned events for children 10 and under.
The reality is the more success children have playing a sport, the more likely they are to enjoy it and to keep playing, something that 10 and Under Tennis hopes to accomplish.
"I would have loved to have this when I was a kid. I think it would have made me a better all-around player for sure," McEnroe said. "I used to hit against the wall as a kid. If you can get kids to start enjoying something and get reasonably proficient at it quickly, I think the chances that they are going to continue to do it go up considerably."