Luke Jensen knows the power tennis and academics can play in individual success. And the former World Team Tennis Delaware Smash player and US Davis Cup team member says he is “really pumped” to return to Delaware this spring to support the kids at Rodney Street Tennis & Tutoring Association (RSTTA).
Jensen, who does tennis analysis for ESPN, will be the featured guest at the RSTTA Spring Benefit on Friday, May 5th. As a high schooler the Michigan-born Jensen reached the junior world No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles and later earned All-American honors at USC two years in a row. The former French Open doubles champion also racked up singles victories against Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Jim Courier.
In advance of his upcoming Delaware visit, TSD caught up with Jensen for a download of his passionate views about college athletics, TV viewership and the future of the sport he loves.
Town Square Delaware: Luke, you’ve been a touring pro, a college coach and continuing enthusiastic booster of the sport of tennis. What is your main focus these days?
Luke Jensen: Tennis is such a broad and global sport that provides many opportunities to stay involved. I was always encouraged to listen to my heart, and it always told me to be on the tennis court. It is where I am at my best. I have tennis projects that help players with special needs all the way to players looking to become the next American tennis hero. I owe everything in my life to tennis, and I try to instill the same enthusiasm in others.
TSD: You were the #1 ranked junior player in the world at a time when the US was at the top of the game; the sport has obviously seen dramatic growth since then in all parts of the globe. But why do you think the US has had such difficulty producing top ten talent (outside of the Williams sisters) since the 90s?
Jensen: The American talent pool has never been better. I am very impressed with the young Americans coming through the ATP and WTA tours. I am also fired up about the new USTA National Campus near Orlando, FL. Americans winning grand slams is sooner rather than later.
The concern I have is with the low tennis TV ratings that effect all types of funding. I know that Fed, Williams Sisters, Bryan Bros, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Sharapova will be done within the next five seasons. Who will replace these amazing impactful players and personalities? There will be good players who will inherit a great game, but will they have the personality to take the game to another level? I hope so.
TSD: Instead of going right into the pros, you first played college tennis at USC. Presumably back then there weren’t as many foreign players playing in the NCAA. Today some question the amount of scholarships going to non-US athletes. As a former student athlete and college coach, what is your take on this debate? Did you recruit foreign players at Syracuse, and if so why?
Jensen: Now my fit bit alarm just broke!!! My heart rate is racing!!!! I only recruited American players at Syracuse and I am disgusted with the lack of American opportunities for tennis scholarships. I will throw you some shocking numbers.
40 million Americans are currently in student loan debt. That debt is over 1 TRILLION US DOLLARS! Now here is the tennis component. In D1 tennis 76 percent of all varsity men and women scholarship players are international. At the D2 level the percentage is 92% of scholarship players are international. Many of these international teams have losing records. These teams don’t even win!
What is going on in college tennis is a complete slap in the face of American families paying American taxes but not able to have a chance at American financed scholarships. We have a competitive confidence problem in our country. College coaches feel our own American kids are not as good as the rest of the world. I coached eight years at Syracuse with American high school tennis products. We had winning records versus foreign college teams and winning records versus foreign players.
The college tennis landscape has quit on our young and deserving American players.
TSD: There is a lot of buzz about the new USTA junior training center outside Orlando. Have you been down there and how do you see that operation influencing the future of the sport here?
Jensen: I call it the Death Star because of the enormous size of the place. Three grand slam sites together fits in that monster. But it is our monster, and it must succeed.
I believe our tennis strength in our country is our vastness and diversity. From coast to coast I see philosophies in coaching and player development that are different. It draws out new concepts and approaches that produce players at all levels. My hope is that both the Death Star and local tennis ecosystems across our great country can produce a positive environment that wins from participation to major victories.
TSD: Have to ask you: did you and your brother Murphy ever face off against the Bryan brothers?
Jensen: Ha ha! We’ve been playing against them since they were 10! I am so proud and impressed with what they have done with their platform as the greatest doubles team of all time. You will never find a more humble couple of guys on the planet. I played with cut throat competitors. Roger, Rafa and the Bryan Bros are once in a thousand years type of character talent that win in my definition more off the court than on. Long live people of character!
TSD: Are you excited to come back to Wilmington?
Jensen: I’m really pumped! I’m a former WTT Delaware Smash player. I love the area and the energy of the people. I have heard so much about the positive direction tennis has had on lives… My approach will be to strengthen the bond between fun and tennis.