Professional tennis players and especially American professional tennis players face the decision at some point in their careers. Men and women. To go to college or not go to college?
Players from outside of the United States like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal invariably choose to turn professional at an early age. There is less pressure on young tennis stars to attend college in many foreign countries than there is in the United States. There is also less precedent.
As early as 30 years ago, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had to make the decision. Mac attended Stanford for two years and won the NCAA’s. He has never regretted his college decision.Same with Jimmy Connors at UCLA. He went for one year and also won the NCAA’s.
Three years ago, John Isner and Sam Querry burst on the scene.Isner went to the University of Georgia for four years and led his team to an NCAA crown.He finished second in singles. He wasn’t ready as a player to turn pro out of high school.Sam Querry, on the other hand turned down a full scholarship at USC. They are both about equally ranked now.
The college scene has changed dramatically over the past decade or so. More foreign players are attending colleges in the States and that makes the competition better for Americans who continue on with their educations. Benjamin Becker is a prime example. He attended Baylor and is now No. 50 in the world.
The US Open Junior Finals this year pitted Jack Sock against Denis Kudla. Sock won the event and is torn between college and turning pro. Kudla has already turned pro. Sock and his family were approached by countless agents at the Open.
In our opinion, players should take a page from the James Blake playbook. The former Fairfield, Connecticut high school star attended Harvard for two years and then turned pro. He honed his skills at Harvard and picked up many valuable life tools in the process.He rose to as high as no. 6 in the world and was an endorsement guru. College did not hurt him a bit.
Jesse Levine turned pro after one year at the University of Florida. He stated, “You can always go back to school but not to pro tennis.” That is true but Levine has had a somewhat undistinguished pro career and probably wasn’t ready physically to turn pro when he did. Perhaps four years in college would have made Levine a better pro and a more well rounded individual.
Clearly, there is no easy answer to this conundrum facing many young tennis players.
Richard Kent is the autor of Inside the US Open and The Racket.