'Cause for concern' - Jamaicans' failure to advance beyond quarters worries Davis Cup coach
Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter
Jamaica's Davis Cup coach, Mel Spence, admits cause for concern as for the second-consecutive year, the country's male players failed to advance past the quarter-final stage of the NCB Capital Markets Jamaica Open Tennis Championships, which is one of the biggest tournaments held in the island annually.
The country has fallen to Level Three in the Davis Cup rankings for a number of years now and with the NCB Capital Markets Open Tennis Championships featuring players from countries such as Barbados and Haiti - nations that Jamaica compete against in the sport's premier international team event in men's tennis, Spence says the local players' display, especially on local-soil, is worrying.
The semi-final of this year's event, which ended on Sunday night at the Liguanea Club, featured Tim Smyczek of the United States, Haiti's Olivier Sajous and the Barbados pair of Darian King and 2011 winner Hayden Lewis.
Smyczek defeated King 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the final.
Jamaica's top male player, Damion Johnson, was beaten 6-4, 6-2 in his quarter-final match against Lewis.
"There is cause for concern, but I think our guys are not getting the exposure they need," Spence expressed to The Gleaner. "Because of that (lack of exposure) they are unable to compete at this level, but it is the consistency with which they play at this level that is needed. With more practice they will break through I think.
"The guys that are beating them are guys that are playing this level and higher on a consistent basis. It is difficult to compete against guys who are doing this every day, as opposed to our guys who are doing this once every couple of months."
Spence is of the view that Tennis Jamaica, the body in charge of the sport locally, needs to host more high-quality tournaments, in addition to which local players should travel and play abroad.
"Of course, the financials are an issue and we are trying to address that by getting sponsors," Spence, who has been coaching the Jamaica team since 2010, shared. "I wish we had 20 more tournaments like this (NCB Capital Markets Jamaica Open Tennis Championships) then you would really see a jump in our guys' levels."
At the last Davis Cup, which was held in Trinidad and Tobago back in July, Jamaica were narrowly edged out by Costa Rica for promotion to Level Two.
"Our guys were close and I feel if they were a little sharper we would have advanced," Spence said. "I think we can make it to the top two next year."
Things are even more dismal on the women's side, as it has been a number of years since Jamaica participated in the Federation Cup (Fed Cup) - the premier team competition in women's tennis.
Entries for the female draw at the Hi-Pro ACE Supercentre Tennis Open in August and the NCB Capital Markets Open Tennis Championships were very dismal; suggesting that female interest in the sport is at an all-time low. Only eight females participated in last week's championship; seven of whom, including the two finalists, were Jamaicans.
"Women tennis has declined for a while," Spence highlighted. "We are beginning to see more interest in tennis from younger girls and I think that will definitely help us in a couple of years, but that's further down the line."