Vols trying not to be all international

The majority of college tennis players at major schools are from overseas. Some SEC teams have all-international lineups.

That's disturbing to some, who don't like foreigners taking away opportunities from Americans.

Others say tennis is a global sport and there's more pressure on college coaches to win, thus, go anywhere to get the best players.

"I think it's important to have a balance,'' said Tennessee men's tennis coach Sam Wintherbotham.

This season, the Vols will have six new players; three are foreigners.

"Tennis is a world sport,'' Winterbotham said. "It's not the same as football or baseball or even basketball on the college level.

"Tennessee has been recruiting foreign players for a long time. The rest of the country has, too. What I think is happening is schools around the country have become more interested in the Director's Cup (all sports ranking). With all Olympic sports, including tennis, there's a lot more pressure on coaches to win championships.''

Stanford, UCLA, Florida and Georgia have been able to win at a high level with mostly American players. Many others have gone overseas to get quality players.

But there's a rub. Some foreign players compete in pro tournaments and accept money, then are able to regain amateur status if they make restitution. American's can't do that.

Lenny Simpson, tennis director at the Louisville Centre Court Racquet Club, thinks the NCAA should be stricter on international players seeking amateur reinstatement.

"Once a pro, always a pro,'' Simpson said.

Jimmy Pitkanen, head coach at Webb School, agrees. He said Europeans have a lot more developmental time and experience before being signed by U.S. colleges.

Why is the NCAA lenient on the pro-amateur rule with international players and not Americans?

"I've wondered that myself,'' Pitkanen said.

The average stay of a foreign player at a U.S. college is 1.2 years. An NCAA rule says if you sign a foreign player, he loses a year of eligibility for each year that he's over 20. For example, if you sign a 22-year-old, he has two years of eligibility to play.

"I'm certainly not recruiting anybody that doesn't want to be here four years,'' Wintherbotham said.

That might be the intent. The reality is, some players develop so fast, they turn pro after two years, like Knoxville's Chris Woodruff. Others become homesick or realize they can't play at an SEC level and leave.

One disturbing trend is the astonishing decrease in the percentage of pro players that are Americans. In 1981, 27 percent of players on the ATP Tour were Americans. In 2006, it was 7.6 percent. The numbers of Europeans on the tour jumped from 33 percent in 1981 to 57.9 percent in 2006.

On the women's tour, the percentage has dropped from 42 percent Americans in 1981 to nine percent last year. The European numbers rose from 37 percent in 1981 to 60 percent.

Also, the number of top 100 U.S. players on the ATP Tour has decreased from 46 in 1981 to eight last year while in Europe, it's gone from 33 to 74.

Some argue that's a direct result of recruiting foreign players to colleges while denying opportunities for the U.S. kid.

"We've got to find some way to reverse those numbers,'' Simpson said.

Junior Clubs Merge: The junior programs at Cedar Bluff Racquet Club and Smoky Mountain Tennis Academy have merged into one premier program that will be called the Annacone Tennis Academy.

"This junior program will be second to none,'' said Steve Annacone, who will serve as the director. "It will have many options available to meet the growing demand for junior tennis.

"And a wide range of classes ranging from beginner mighty mites to professional tour players will be offered at several locations. We will be expanding the program tremendously over the next couple of years.''

A free clinic will be offered to tournament players Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. at Cedar Bluff Racquet Club to kickoff the Annacone Tennis Academy.

To sign up for the free clinic or to get more information about Annacone Tennis Academy, call 865-690-5700 or e-mail sannacone@aol.com.

Jimmy Hyams is sports director for The Sports Animal radio station. For tennis notes, call 865-212-4619 or fax information to 865-558-4218.

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