No American in the ATP top 15, no personality to really stand out since the retirement of Andy Roddick, a decade without winning a Grand Slam, disappointing results in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas... While the U.S. Open is about to start, the situation is worrying and the crisis of American men's tennis seems to be here to stay. Explanations.
Don't be mistaken: all is not doom and gloom for the American Tennis in its entirety. Serena Williams beats all the records of longevity on the WTA Tour and the Bryan brothers are even more tyrannical in double. If we talk about crisis, it mostly concerns American men's tennis in single, which has never seemed so poor. John Isner's defeat in the first round of the Montreal tournament against Vasek Pospisil in early August made him lose three spots in the ATP rankings. The U.S. giant has found himself at the 22nd place in the world. The first time since the ATP Tour creation in 1973 that there isn't a single American in the top 20! Behind, Sam Querrey is ranked 28th. As for the third Yankee of the moment, Jack Sock, he's only ranked 87th. In terms of victories this season, the only one able to make some good performances, is still Isner with two titles to his name, obtained in Houston and Atlanta, for two lost finals in Washington and Cincinnati (it's interesting to see that he plays his best tournaments at home). Problem: Isner is already 28 and doesn't seem to have the talent to do better. The last truly great American tennis player is named Andy Roddick, winner of the U.S. Open in 2003 and world number one in stride. The following decade is like a journey through the desert for American tennis, with for only stunt, a victory in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas in 2007 (4-1 in the final against the Russians). For a country that, just on the last 40 years, has seen champions like Arthur Ashe , Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, this lack of success in the long term doesn't look good. And is starting to worry everybody, obviously.
A domestic competition...
"At the moment, there aren’t enough talented American young athletes who choose to play tennis, said Ben Rothenberg, journalist at the New York Times. Leagues such as the NFL for American football and NBA for basketball keep gaining in popularity while tennis appears to be in decline. » His comments echo those of Patrice Hagelauer, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) executive, who recently noted that "all the kids abandon tennis for sports which are more popular in the American medias and where the champions are really big stars." While it's easy for a kid to admire the exploits of a LeBron James or Peyton Manning, it is considerably less common to try to replicate the exploits of someone like John Isner or Sam Querrey. A question of charisma... « Yet, the country has plenty of training facilities, says Ben Rothenberg, but it's very expensive to register there. Result: many parents prefer to enrol their children in team sports, less expensive and that require fewer hours of training to succeed.»
...and a greater international competition
While the 80s American tennis champions were only challenged by a foreign competition limited to the Swedes, Czechs, Australians, French and Germans, they must now deal with the emergence of champions from all over the world: from former satellites of the Soviet Union to South America and Asia "The global level has improved" said Pete Sampras early August in a column of the New York Times, something that Ben Rothenberg also acknowledges: "Serbia and Spain, for example, weren't historically present at the highest level and but they gradually have become so in recent years." Serbia, winner of the United States in the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas this year and Spain which eliminated the same team in the semi-final a year ago and in the semi-final the year before.
The overall picture is worrying, but Ben Rothenberg refuses to be alarmed. « When you see the number of talents to emerge in women tennis behind Serena Williams, it is reasonable to think that the fundamental problem of American tennis is not structural but more temporary, he says. It's just that right now, many boys prefer to turn to other sports." Would it be just a matter of fashion then? Pete Sampras isn't far to believe it "People are wondering when the next Andre (Agassi, ed) will emerge or when there will be the next Pete (Sampras, ed) but unfortunately it doesn't happen every 10 years. If we're optimistic, we can still imagine that kids will come up with a hunger for victories and the will to do well.» The ideal for American professional tennis would be that at least two champions of the same generation could emerge at the same time, as in the days of Connors and McEnroe, or Sampras and Agassi. There's nothing like a good emulation. This is also what Roddick may have lacked to have an even more successful career, and what could have created more vocations. It's time for Jack Sock (20 years old, world 87th), Ryan Harrison (21 years old, 102th) or Denis Kudla (21 years old, 104th) to start competing with each other and gradually go for the best.