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Bollettieri focuses on America

There are no Americans left in Paris.

At least not tennis players at Roland Garros, where the sons and daughters of the American Grand Slam revolution were quickly swept off the red clay of the French Open.

Failure of U.S. players was complete when a 26-year-old tour grinder named Robby Ginepri, the country's last great hope, could not make it to the quarterfinals in the most difficult of the game's four Grand Slam tournaments. When your last chance is a guy named Ginepri, odds of a title are remote.

While it is near the City of Lights where American tennis seems to have entered its darkest hour, the serious concern about where future U.S. champions will arise extends far from the streets of Paris.

Gone, if not forgotten, are players like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi. The same goes for Billie Jean King and Chris Evert.

Now Russians, Serbians, Spaniards and, of course, that splendid Swiss champion, carry home the trophies of tennis' greatest tournaments.

Just as the United States overtook Australia years ago, much of the rest of the world has passed America. Whether it is because there are too many sports available for Americans to choose to play, or that other countries put in more effort and money to produce tennis players, the result has been that America no longer leads the way in tennis.

Maybe time has passed American tennis by. Maybe the United States will never dominate as it once did.

Maybe, but it won't happen without one more good old American try by those closest to the game.

Nick Bollettieri returned from Paris on Thursday. One of the most recognizable coaches in the history of the game came home to Bradenton more determined than ever to change the fortunes of American tennis.

"I made a promise that I am going to help America get some top players," Bollettieri said, even as he watched the debacle in Paris.

He made that guarantee recently, not only to himself, but to the United States Tennis Association.

Arlen Kantarian, the USTA's chief executive officer, Professional Tennis, has been given the task of building a new USTA elite player development program. He has picked Patrick McEnroe to head up the team that is training young American players to become competitive again.

McEnroe is working with anyone who can help.

That is where Bollettieri comes in. The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy has a history of finding and developing tennis champions -- Aggasi, Seles, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic to name a few.

Now Bollettieri is eager to be a part of the program to bring American players back to the top of the tennis world.

"I want to make it very plain that I am working with Patrick and Arlen to help America get back on track," Bollettieri explained. "I made a pledge to Patrick that I am going to do my share of working with players to help them represent America."

The cooperation has begun with scholarships to the Bollettieri academy for top young players.

Those players include four young talented black players who have been given the opportunity to train where they want rather than exclusively at the USTA training center. That flexibility is the cornerstone of McEnroe's plan for success and Bollettieri can play a big part in the strategy.

Already at the Bollettieri Academy is 13-year old Sachia Vickery, who this past week won her first ITF tournament in Costa Rica.

She is joined by 12-year old Victoria Duval and 9-year old Alicia Black. Bollettieri said that 15-year old Sloane Stephens, who is already playing professional tournaments, will soon start working at the academy.

The three already at the academy are living in private housing near the tennis facility. The girls begin training before the sun comes up.

"They are all very good athletes. They are all very intelligent and they all love the game," Bollettieri said. "These girls hopefully will represent American in the future to come."

They have the best chance with Bollettieri and the USTA.   

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