THERE is a clear distinction between the soaring success of the Australian Open, and the declining health of Australian tennis, which is fortunate, because the on-court performance has reached historic new lows. Of the 16 Australians in the first round, just three reached the second, the worst result in the Open era.
Rod Laver ruled the sport when it started, in 1969, through a second momentous grand slam year, and as much as the global landscape is vastly different more than four decades later, it is not adequate to simply shrug, talk about the promising juniors coming through and the fact that rebuilding takes time, while hoping that Sam Stosur and Bernard Tomic can progress far enough to help mask a disastrous cavernous lack of depth. Well, Tomic, anyway.
The two Queenslanders aside, only James Duckworth expanded the second-round presence past the two obvious candidates: she who has been a three-year fixture in the top 10, and he who surely will be Australia's next. Duckworth is 20, ranked 223rd, and a likely replacement for the suspended Tomic in the next Davis Cup tie. Which, for the 28-time champion, is in the Asia-Oceania zone group for the sixth consecutive year. But so it goes on.
Indeed, it was in 2007 that Tennis Australia took out a full-page newspaper ad to celebrate the junior Davis and Fed Cup double that seemed awfully overplayed at the time and now seems even more so. The six players in those respective squads were Isabella Holland, Sally Peers, Olivia Rogowska, Tomic, Mark Verryth and Alex Sanders.
No prizes for picking the standout, for Rogowska is the only other player to have come even close to a double-figure ranking. For all the millions spent on player development, and the burgeoning numbers of staff on the Tennis Australia payroll, the transition to the senior game is the point at which the majority are tripping up.
The latest decline is incremental, for had Jarmila Gajdosova's late-Tuesday loss to Yanina Wickmayer been happily different, the Australian aggregate would merely have equalled the combined headcount in 2011, 2010, 2006, 2002. Four was awfully low. This - and bearing in mind that Duckworth was playing another Australian wildcard, so a victory was unavoidable - is lower still.
Confirmation involved an interesting trawl through the records - Evie Dominikovic and Bryanne Stewart were both multiple second-rounders, there were a couple of Larkham brothers, two Woodies, a Crabb (Jaymon), a Hill (Michael) and a famous shirt-shredder (Andrew Ilie) since the new century dawned with nine Australian men and three women winning at least one match. A healthy dozen, and not so long ago.
Peter Johnston is uniquely placed to comment on the evolution, having run men's tennis in Australia in what can not now be regarded as such dark days, and heads the WTA's rapidly expanding Asia-Pacific operation.
''It's not for me to comment on the Australian program and I just hope it goes well, but what I'm seeing is the insatiable appetite for improvement in the region,'' Johnston said. ''They love what it brings to their culture, to their reputation. We're now looking at how many new events we have - in China alone we have five WTA tour events in 2014 as three $125,000 events and we're still talking to more and more cities that want these products. And with that they want China to succeed with this product.
''The race is on in every country. I think it just means that Australia has to keep the foot on the gas. I know Australia is doing so much, but it needs to keep doing more and more and more, because the race is getting harder and more competitive.
''It's just so crucial to get your programs right because the others are just motoring forward.''
So, the key question: what programs are the right ones? Coaching and training are at the heart of it, along with the domestic tournament structure, and access to international competition. A welcome development is the new National Tennis Centre at Melbourne Park, with the eight new Italian claycourts among 21 new indoor and outdoor courts complemented by an indoor running track, recovery pools, treatment rooms and video playback facilities for game analysis.
There are also many more tournaments played around the nation now, although the counter-argument is that Australians playing each other is not necessarily ideal, and that what some consider to be ''cheap'' rankings points can be as misleading as they are helpful in boosting rankings in the short-term. Another criticism is of the constant changes to the structure and pathway, although it could also be argued that endless tinkering with the recipe is preferable to serving up the same dud meal.
Many more former players have been hired as coaches, among many more coaches hired, full stop. Grant Doyle is among the latest batch, returning from a successful career in the US to work with former junior Wimbledon champion Luke Saville and runner-up Ben Mitchell in Melbourne. Australian No. 2 Marinko Matosevic has been particularly vocal in his endorsement of the benefits of working with someone who has been there before.
It is clear that Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter is having a growing impact on the men's half of the equation, and is a driving force behind the dilution of an overly-generous culture of player handouts. Rafter's close friend Josh Eagle has become his delegate on the circuit for the 30 weeks a year that Eagle will travel, with Rafter's on-the-road duties limited to about 10 weeks, but a power shift increasingly apparent.
Like or loathe his move to suspend Tomic from next month's Davis Cup tie - and even argue, as some have, that it was a soft call to make given the lowly calibre of the Taiwanese opposition in a gimme fixture - do not expect Rafter to shirk any of the decisions he believes must be made for the good of the Australian game.
Which, on the strength of this latest set of underwhelming results, seven months after Australia's worst Wimbledon performance since 1939, clearly needs any and all the help it can get. The Australian Open, too, is breaking records. So that's the good news. Sort-of. For another day.