Melbourne, 7 December 2011 | Matt Trollope

In typical Roddick style, University of Oklahoma head men’s tennis coach John Roddick – brother of 2003 US Open winner Andy – is articulate, direct and passionate when it comes to discussing the sport, particularly the US college pathway that many professionals have taken.

“I think as it takes longer and longer to develop into a professional player, [college tennis] is a fit for kids to have opportunity to continue developing and have a little bit of patience doing it. It’s a four-year process for most players who go in, and if you become really good as a college player you can opt out and leave early to turn pro, which happens quite a bit,” he explains.

“The US players are starting to realise that we have less and less players turning pro early, and we have a lot more of them going to school. The budgets are very large at the bigger schools and we have a lot we can offer the kids from a resource, coaching and education standpoint … When their grades get better, they always start playing better tennis, every time.”

Roddick is in Melbourne for the December Showdown, scouting Australian junior talent and gauging their interest in taking the US college route through Oklahoma. While talking with, Roddick spies Queenslander John-Patrick Smith hitting on court behind him, a successful product of the college system at the University of Tennessee.

“He left school six months ago and he’s already close to No.400 (in the world) … now he has the chance to be a professional, and that’s kind of the goal, to build that foundation properly for kids who weren’t ready when they were 18,” Roddick says.

“If they don’t make it as a player … they have an education now, and they have a lot of options they wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

Several Australians have gone through the US college system, most notably Peter Luczak, who represented Fresno State University in California for three years before going on to hit world No.64 in late 2009.

Yet even before Australians contemplate the college system, Roddick believes they have a great pathway here, likening the set-up of the junior events at the December Showdown to the prestigious Orange Bowl junior event in Florida.

“It looks like Tennis Australia has a great developmental program going right now,” he says.

“All you can produce is the numbers as a federation, and try and put a lot of players in the top 100, which is an attainable goal. But [for federations] to say ‘we’re going to produce a Grand Slam champion’ … You’ve got the kids in Serbia training in the bottom of a pool and they’re winning Grand Slams, so I don’t know how you can say that.

“Winning a Grand slam [means] that person is special, or being in the top five in the world, they’re ridiculously good at what they do, and people need to keep that in perspective.”

The United States finds itself in a similar position in the tennis world to Australia. Formerly a dominant nation and with a highly developed tennis infrastructure anchored by a Grand Slam tournament, it struggles with player representation at the highest levels of the game.

Yet like Australia, Roddick believes there are plenty of reasons to be excited about US prospects heading into the future.

“You’ve got Ryan Harrison doing very well, Sam Querrey is still not that old … [and] Donald Young is starting to play well. We have currently eight or nine players in the top hundred, which is a good number, but we’re lacking in the superstar realm outside of my brother,” he says.

“There are not a lot of guys you would say coming up who are going to be superstars. I think Harrison has a very good chance, and I think Young as well, but are they going to have that consistency that Andy had for 10 years of being in the top 10? I think that’s where we’re [currently] struggling.”

Despite describing his brother as being in the “twilight” of his career, Roddick says Andy is feeling good again after a disappointing year that saw him finish at No.14, the first time he finished the year outside the top 10 since 2001.

“He’s not so much worried about [his] ranking as he is about his ability to compete at Grand Slams. I think getting to the quarterfinals of the US Open [this year] was mentally really good for him because it made him feel much better about where his game is … So I think he’s excited about this coming year,” he says.

“He’s feeling good [now], he’s healthy, he’s working hard. This is when he gets really fit and he’ll start getting serious on the tennis in another week or two … he’ll come down here [in January] with a really good attitude and be ready to go.”