The USTA Player development team announced today that they would be moving one of the United States' premiere junior tennis tournaments, the Orange Bowl, from hard courts to clay, taking it from Coral Gables to Plantation, Florida starting December 2011.
The move comes as concern rises over the lack of US players in the world's upper echelons of the game, the elite top 10. The USTA Player Development team (Patrick McEnroe, Jose Higueras, Leo Azevedo and more) believes that the US will have a better chance at developing stronger, more versatile tennis players by having them learn, practice and compete on clay.
"If you play more on clay as a youngster," said Patrick McEnroe, "you will become a more all around player." European players, the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer grew up on clay. "Clay is a slower surface," continued McEnroe. "In general it helps a player to develop footwork, patience and construct points."
The USTA Training centers in Carson California, Boca Raton Florida, and Flushing New York are equipt with ample clay courts. Many states in the country however are loaded with hard courts which are cheaper to construct and easier to maintain. This is the reason most American players today have a distinct preference for hard courts. They grew up on them. Some avoid clay courts and clay court tournaments altogether.
This big tournament move, along with the development of clay court circuits in the US, will ensure that those juniors who aspire to the game's highest levels will have to put time in on clay to prepare for and win these most elite of tournaments.