Top 5 : The American false promises

Aug 31, 2016, 12:00:00 AM

They’re called Gimelstob, Ginepri, Baker, Young or Harrison and were once considered to be the next big names of American tennis

The time when the United States were dominating men’s world tennis with the generation of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang seems very far. If Andy Roddick - the last American winner at the US Open, in 2003 - has kept the flame alive, there are many who have gone from hope to despair. Here’s a small, non-exhaustive, selection.

Justin Gimelstob

Before being seen on Twitter or with a microphone on Tennis Channel or ESPN, Justin Gimelstob has played a little bit of tennis. And pretty well…well, mainly at the start. Number 1 in his country between 12 and 18, the kid from New-Jersey was granted an invitation to play the US Open in 1995. « I’m now 7 matches away from winning my first Grand Slam », he said with his sharp way with words. Ranked after 1000th spot, he was finally stopped six matches away from the title after a promising win against David Prinosil. Two years later, he knocked out Gustavo Kuerten, the recent winner of Roland-Garros, in the first round of Wimbledon. A promising start, which Gimelstob didn’t confirm later on, despite prestigious wins against Andre Agassi or Patrick Rafter. Since his retirement in 2007, he is now famous for his cutting comments, especially when he has to comment on the physique of female players, with some being described as « a well developed young lady » or a « whiner ».

Robby Ginepri

The 10 000 dollar-question. What was, in 2015, the name of the last active american player to have qualified for the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament ? Two clues : his father was a financial analyst in Luxembourg (still no answer ?) and on the courts, you could see him wear a sleeveless t-shirt which made him look like a truck driver. If you haven’t answered Robby Ginepri, don’t worry. When he put his racquets away at the end of last season, his semi-final at the US Open ten years earlier seemed very far away. A caricature of the baseline attacking player with a monolithic tennis, Ginepri maintained the illusion during the summer of 2005, between his New-York journey, a semi-final in Cincinnati and a 15th spot ranking at the ATP race. After that, he regained his place in Andy Roddick’s shadow. The US didn’t need two sluggers wearing their caps backwards. 

Brian Baker

The Nashville-born player’s career seems to come straight out of a medicine textbook. Hip operation in 2005, hernia in 2006, elbow operation, before another left hip, and right hip operation in the sole year of 2008. Baker once said he « stopped counting the operations ». Finalist at the Petits AS against Richard Gasquet in 1999, than at Roland Garros Junior against Stan Wawrinka (defeating Novak Djokovic along the way) four years later, this promising boy loved France. After years of pain, he reached the final at the Nice tournament in 2012 and had a few good results, which led him to be ranked very close to the Top 50. At 27, it’s never too late to start your career, especially when you have his skills and energy. Unfortunately, Baker’s body gave up on him once more the following season (his knee this time). Having fallen way above the 300th spot, the American made the most of all his injuries to attend financial lectures at university. After all, you can never be too careful. 

Donald Young

This time, there was no doubt, the US had found in Donald Young a future wonderkid. He didn’t doubt it himself. At ten, he made quite an impression on John McEnroe (« It’s the first time in my life that I see a kid with the same hands as me ») during an exhibition match at home, in Chicago. Six years later, he became the youngest Juniors’ world number 1 in history. « I want to win all four Grand Slam tournaments at least once », said the impudent kid. The reality of the circuit soon made him put both feet back on the ground. Young didn’t provide the means to match up his goals and his left hand wasn’t enough anymore. Never ranked higher than the 36th spot, the American walked out of the shadows at the last US Open by qualifying for the fourth round. A performance which now looks like a one-shot. A pretty strong habit for the one who’s still waiting to win his first title in the main circuit.

Ryan Harrison

At 24, there is still time to save private Ryan, but the Floridian is taking time to confirm all the hopes which were placed in him. The kid has been on the circuit since 2009 and a victory against Pablo Cuevas in Houston, when he was only 16. A precocity which we hadn’t seen since Gasquet or Nadal in their time. In 2012, he was flirting with the Top 50 and Jim Courier even picked him to face France in the BNP Paribas Davis Cup, in Monte Carlo (defeated by Tsonga). He never shifted to second gear afterwards, incapable of qualifying for the third round in a Grand Slam tournament. These days, he’s ranked after the Top 100 and has seen Jack Sock becoming american tennis’ new hope. While waiting for the next one ?

By Alexandre Pedro