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What Has Gone Wrong for the USA in Men's Tennis?
Wednesday, 03/17/2021
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There was a time where the United States dominated men’s tennis at the highest level. There was seemingly an endless production line of talent emerging from the USA and their collegiate ranks. Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, and John McEnroe all excelled in their college days before making the successful move to professional tennis.
Then there's Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Andy Roddick who thrived at junior level before rising to the elite ranks. When Connors and Ashe departed the scene, McEnroe and Courier were able to take up the mantle. Sampras and Agassi then dominated the men’s game in the 1990s.
Roddick was the great hope after Sampras and Agassi retired from the sport, and although he claimed an early success in the 2003 US Open, the American failed to record another major triumph. Roddick’s win at Flushing Meadows was the last victory by an American man at a Grand Slam. Agassi and Roddick did appear in further finals in 2005 and 2009 respectively, but since Roddick’s defeat at the hands of Roger Federer, the States have been without a competitor in the final of a Grand Slam.
The dominance of Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic over the last decade has prevented a host of players from breaking through on the major stage. When the big three have not performed, Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, and Dominic Thiem have mopped up the crowns on offer.
American players have not come close to matching the quality of the leading stars in the sport. This is a stark contrast to the women’s side of tennis where Serena Williams continues to excel, and there are exciting players emerging such as Sofia Kenin and Jennifer Brady. The men’s ranks, on the other hand, are not so stacked with quality.
Where Has It Gone Wrong?
John Isner is the highest-ranked player from the United States on the ATP Tour. The Isner has enjoyed a solid career and played one of the most memorable games of tennis audiences have ever seen when he and Nicolas Mahut participated in the longest singles match in history.
The 35-year-old won the match at Wimbledon but was consequently knocked out the following round. He did reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 2018 and played out another thriller against Kevin Anderson, only to lose out to the South African in the longest Grand Slam semi-final.
Isner is still competitive on the tour, but the States’ problem in the men’s game is highlighted by his Wimbledon odds provided by Betway at +12500 to win the competition as of 3rd March. At the age of 35, Isner’s time is running out at the top of the game, while the ranks are thin on the ground behind him.
Taylor Fritz won the junior US Open in 2015 but has not translated his form to success in the professional game. The 23-year-old has progressed only as far as the third round of Grand Slams in 18 appearances. Fritz has been slowly improving, but in terms of the next generation of talent in the game, he is far behind Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, and Stefanos Tsitsipas on the ATP Tour. The USA was once the envy of the rest of the world for their tennis stars, who are now falling behind.
Is There Hope for the Future?
The States will always put their hopes in young talent emerging through the collegiate ranks. Jenson Brooksby is an intriguing player and has decided to turn professional after opting against continuing his career in the NCAA with Baylor University. The 20-year-old made an impact at the 2019 US Open by defeating Wimbledon's 2010 finalist, Tomas Berdych in the first round, although he was soon bounced out in the second by Nikoloz Basilashvili despite winning the first set.
Keegan Smith has been named an All-American for the third time in his tenure at UCLA. At 6ft 6in, he has the characteristics of Isner to trouble his opponents with, although, at the age of 22, Smith may have to decide sooner rather than later whether he wishes to commit his future to the game.
Georgia Bulldogs’ Tyler Zink could be one to watch after being named Southeast Region Rookie of the Year along with All-American honors. The 20-year-old has time to develop his game, although he could take heed from the example of Brooksby to try his hand against the world’s elite to provide a measuring stick of where he needs to be to compete.
Men’s tennis in America is facing a crucial point in its history. Given the resources and the scope of talent available, there’s no excuse for their underwhelming performances at Grand Slams to continue in the future.