Positive Spin

May 7, 2009 11:16 AM

By E.J. Crawford

If you’ve noticed your neighborhood courts are a little more crowded these days, there’s a good reason: Participation in tennis is at its highest point in 15 years. Almost 27 million recreational tennis players took to the courts last year in the United States, and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association found that tennis is the fastest-growing traditional sport in the country. Overall, participation in tennis has jumped 43 percent since 2000 and nearly 10 percent in the last year alone.

Moreover, according to the 2008 Tennis Participation Study by the Taylor Research & Consulting Group, the percentage of frequent players jumped more than 7 percent (to 5.62 million) from 2007 to 2008, and nearly 6 million new players took up the game for the first time. With all the new and frequent players, it comes as no surprise that tennis ball sales, one of the most telling barometers of the health of the game, are up 15 percent since 2003.

The good news does not stop there. USTA League, USTA Jr. Team Tennis and the collegiate Tennis On Campus program continue to grow, setting new records for participation in 2008–09. USTA Player Development is also making significant strides in developing the next generation of tennis champions. In fact, as of May 10, the U.S. had 26 players (14 boys and 12 girls) in the Top 100 of the ITF Junior World Rankings—10 more than the second-best country, Russia.

American tennis is surging on the professional level as well. The 2008 US Open was a resounding success, with record attendance and revenue. Better yet, Americans contested the final in seven of the nine US Open events—all but men’s singles and boys’ doubles—with titles for Serena Williams, Liezel Huber, Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan and CoCo Vandeweghe. Moreover, the 2009 U.S. Fed Cup team has already advanced to the final, and in July the Davis Cup squad will be bidding for its fourth straight semifinal appearance, tied with Russia the best of any nation. And the Olympus US Open Series, now in its sixth season, has doubled television viewership.

From the grass roots to the professional game, tennis is growing and thriving in new and exciting ways, ensuring that tennis will remain strong deep into the coming decade.