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The price to play

Erick Johnson | 3/27/2014, 9 a.m.
With a headset, Donald Young Jr. stood in the hallway of the stadium court waiting as Serena Williams battled her ...
Serena Williams returns the ball against Yaroslava Shvedova during their match on day 4 of the Sony Open on March 20 in Key Biscayne.

First in a two-part series

With a headset, Donald Young Jr. stood in the hallway of the stadium court waiting as Serena Williams battled her resilient opponent, Caroline Garcia from France. His match was next. So Young began stretching and exercising for his showdown against 10th seeded John Isner.

Young had plenty of time. Garcia had a ferocious forehand that gave Williams much trouble. But after a vicious two-hour battle, Williams finally put Garcia away, winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

But Young was not so fortunate. He lost 7-6, 6-1 to Isner, a tall American with booming serves.

Young would be among a string of Black players to lose miserably at the SonyOpen. The next day, 19-year-old Madison Keys lost in the third round to second-seeded Li Na from China 7-6, 6-3. The next day rising star Sloane Stephens suffered a humiliating 6-1,6-0 defeat against Danish player Caroline Wozniacki. Haitian-American player Victoria Duval lost in the first round to a Dutch qualifier Kiki Bertens who dismissed the promising 18-year-old 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.

But Black tennis players have been losing for years, with many going up against wealthy White families with vast resources and connections.And with longstanding problems such as single-parent households, discrimination and little resources, Black players are dropping out as they find themselves outmatched in a sport that’s breeding bigger, stronger men and women players who play with more power than ever before.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As tennis gets bigger so does the money. Corporations and tournaments, including the Grand Slams are doling out millions of dollars in endorsement deals and prize money. Wealthy parents are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on expensive academies, hiring $900 an-hour celebrity coaches to make their kid the next tennis star.

These demands have helped the tennis industry grow into a billion dollar business. According to the Tennis Industry Association, the sport generated $5.57 billion in revenue in 2012, a net growth of about 3 percent.

As a result, the competition and pressure to win has dramatically escalated, driving costs to astronomical levels, leaving Blacks unable to afford to stay in the sport. And with budget cutbacks in local governments and national organizations still reeling from the economic recessions, the situation is getting worse.

“It really hurts me because the sports has been so expensive,” said Michael Parks, a coach who teaches at Pompei Park in Delray Beach.

Parks is the father of Alycia, and Mikayla, who are ranked 38th and 53rd respectively in their age brackets. Many are saying they arethe next Venus and Serena Williams.

But the Parks sisters are the exception more than the rule. Critics say Black players are suffering far worse than their White counterparts in tennis programs that have failed to produce a top American male player since Andy Roddick captured the U.S. Open in 2003. With affluent White and foreign players grabbing the spotlight, critics say talented, less affluent Blacks who may pull the U.S. out its slump against European players are being overlooked and even forced out for one simple reason: money.