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At USTA SC Annual Meeting, Stan Smith Talks Of a Changing Game

December 9, 2014 01:36 PM

ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. – Were today’s professional tennis circuit, with its millions of dollars in prize money, around 50 years ago, Stan Smith would have made a lot more than $20,000 for winning the 1971 US Open, or $117,250.86 in today's money.

Smith might have made $3 million, the prize money Serena Williams received for winning the 2014 US Open. But the business of tennis changed decades after Smith retired, and that’s OK by him.

“I don’t begrudge that at all because it’s become a great business,” Smith said Saturday morning during the USTA South Carolina Annual Business Meeting.

Smith, who also won Wimbledon in 1972, was the keynote speaker for the three-day annual meeting in which tennis volunteers from across the state gathered to plan 2015. For more than an hour, Smith talked about how his experiences in tennis, including Adidas' Stan Smith shoe, how tennis has changed and what might lie ahead for the game.

(?Click here to view photos from the USTA South Carolina Annual Meeting.)

Stan Smith shows how racquets have evolved since he played. (USTA SC photo)

Smith, who now lives on Hilton Head Island and helps run the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy, also shared some of his favorite playing memories and what he thinks junior tennis players should be doing more of today.

Below is an edited rundown of his talk and the brief question-and-answer session that followed.

How players hit these days

“The forehand has become a violent shot,” Smith said.

Of course, Federer doesn’t make it look violent, he said; Federer looks like a “ballerina.”

The four Majors

Each one offers something different, Smith said. For instance, the US Open is more like a party, with fans dancing to music during changeovers. “Centre Court at Wimbledon,” Smith said. “If they played that music the Queen would die.”

On-court coaching

“I feel very strongly that there should be no coaching on the court,” Smith said. “It’s a mano a mano game.”

On-court coaching also would give an unfair advantage to the more successful and wealthier player, he said, because they’d be able to afford the best coach and use his or her advice during the match. The up-and-coming player likely would have to rely on a less-experienced coach.

Most important coach

Smith said he sometimes gets asked who is a player’s most important coach. The player’s college coach? Pro coach? Maybe, Smith said, it’s the player’s first coach. Because if that first coach doesn’t make tennis enjoyable, he said, the player likely won’t have a second coach.

Importance of match play

“I think the most important thing we have to do in the United States is play matches,” Smith said.

In matches, he said, junior players have to figure out their opponent and learn how to win.

Juniors should still participate in drills and practice, he said, but they don’t learn the same skills in practice as they do during matches.

“I’m a big advocate of having kids figure it out,” Smith said.

New rules or changes to tennis

“I’m an advocate for looking at new rules,” he said.

Smith likes experimenting with shorter play formats. He also, despite winning Wimbledon in all-white clothing in 1972, said he’s not a huge fan of wearing all white.

Does America need a star pro tennis player to have another tennis boom?

“I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Should kids play up divisions?

“You want to dominate your age group,” Smith said.

If you’re a 12-year-old, win the 12-year-old competitions.

His favorite match

The 1972 Davis Cup final in Romania was like “World War Three,” Smith said. Read more about that here.

Other things we learned

  • American Jack Sock hits with the second-most spin on tour, behind Rafael Nadal.
  • 67 percent of the seats at the Australian Open are in the shade.