"All of our sections have committees," he said.
"I feel in the strongest way that minority citizens can enjoy watching and playing tennis every bit as much as I do."
Major reality check: LeGeorge Mauldin lives in South Central Los Angeles, in the heart of gangland. LeGeorge may be the best 12-and-under player in Southern California, but he had to give up tennis for several months last year because funding for the inner-city program in which he played temporarily dried up.
LeGeorge is back on the courts again, thanks to a $5,000 donation from the ATP, which heard about his plight through the television show The Crusaders. LeGeorge takes lessons from a recently retired postal worker named Richard Williams, who for 20 years has been trying to spread the game to South Central kids on his days off.
Williams and his brother, Fred, run the California Tennis Association for Underprivileged Youth on a shoestring budget of about $8,000 a year, which they scrape together from small donations from a variety of sources. For a year or so $800 or $900 a month came in from a neighborhood drug dealer, but in 1990 the man was sent to prison.
If tennis is to become a truly public sport and resume growing as it did in the 1970s, it must get into the inner cities. The USTA spends most of its money running tournaments. Recently, however, it combined with the Tennis Industry Association to create the USTA Play Tennis America program, under which, for $24.95, anyone can order a kit that includes an inexpensive racket, a video, a tennis manual and a series of free tennis lessons in three cities: Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; and Tucson. The ATP has begun funding the National Junior Tennis League, a USTA urban youth program. Still, the USTA spends only an estimated $500,000—less than 1% of its annual budget of $91 million—on minority programs. And it costs $600,000 a year just to run the inner-city program in Washington, D.C.
The future of tennis may well be in the hands of people like the Williamses and Doug MacCurdy, the ITF's director of development. MacCurdy, a former teaching pro, is a veritable Johnny Appleseed, traveling to remote parts of the world" to spread the game. The ITF devotes approximately $4 million a year to its global development program. Sometimes carrying only a simple kit—a couple of broad wooden bats and an old ball—MacCurdy has introduced tennis to villages from Mongolia to Benin. Today a 17-year-old girl from Madagascar, Dally Randriantefy, is the sixth-ranked junior in the world. MacCurdy has helped Randriantefy and others get training and college scholarships.
There are those who believe that the greatest tennis talent who ever lived will never pick up a racket because he or she lives in some place like inner-city Detroit or Chicago. "If you could get the racket into the hands of some of those kids," Agassi says, "they might make me look like a club player."