AP Sports Writer
College tennis is increasingly becoming more of an international game, yet an American-born player has won the NCAA singles title four straight years.
Virginia's Jarmere Jenkins, the No. 3 seed, believes Americans have additional motivation to win another title when the NCAA singles tournament begins Wednesday in Urbana, Ill. U.S. citizens who win the NCAA singles championship are given "strong consideration" for wild-card berths to the U.S. Open, though they aren't guaranteed a spot.
"Obviously getting a wild card into US Open is a great incentive to play well and give it all you've got," Jenkins said. "For the international players, whether they win in the finals or they lose in the first round, they don't really benefit as much as we do from it."
Southern California's Steve Johnson earned the last two NCAA singles titles after Mississippi's Devin Britton won it in 2009 and Stanford's Bradley Klahn followed in 2010. All three of those players ended up in the U.S. Open the years they won their NCAA titles.
"It's a huge thing for anybody to win an NCAA title, but it's a very big thing for an American to win because they generally receive a wild card into the U.S. Open," said Jay Berger, the head of men's tennis for the United States Tennis Association.
Still, American-born players don't dominate the top of the college ranks.
Jenkins and Virginia's Alex Domijan are the only American players among the top six seeds in this year's singles championships. All 64 teams that competed in the NCAA team championships this year had at least one international player. About half the schools that participated in the NCAA team championships had international players making up the majority of their rosters.
That reflects the trends of pro tennis as well.
There currently are 15 American-born men's singles players ranked in the top 200. Eight of those players went to college. That's a sharp contrast from this same week in 1993, when 32 American-born players were in the top 200 and 23 of them had played college tennis.
Yet some college coaches say the recent string of American-born NCAA singles champions suggests that the tide may be turning, and that more U.S. junior players are delaying their pro careers to enter college.
"More of the top Americans are staying in school rather than turning pro right out of high school," Tennessee coach Sam Winterbotham said. "I do feel there's definitely a change in the mindset of the top American junior. ... A few years ago, the guys on the bubble, you would always assume they'd turn pro or they'd think they'd have to turn pro. There were a handful of guys who really got caught in the middle and would have benefited from time in college."
Winterbotham noted that players might need time to develop in college because the top pro players are older than before. Ten teenagers were ranked among the world's top 200 players in December 2003. Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic, ranked 127th, is the only teenager currently in the top 200.
"It's a man's game," Virginia coach Brian Boland said. "It takes an incredible amount of physical, mental and emotional maturity. I believe college tennis provides these young men the time they need to grow and develop before entering the tour fulltime."
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich of Washington contributed to this report
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