The good news is that 10 American women are ranked in the Top 100 in the world in tennis as per recent Women's Tennis Association (WTA) rankings of October 1.
The bad news is only one, Serena Williams, is in the Top 25 at No. 4—if you do not count Varvara Lepchenko at No. 19, who was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan but became a U.S. citizen on September 24, 2011.
After Christina McHale at No. 30, Sloane Stephens at No. 37 and Venus Williams at No. 40, there are only two other Americans in the top 80: Vania King (No. 67), who is known more as a doubles player, and Jamie Hampton (No. 77).
Then you find three Americans in the 90s, barely making the Top 100. They are Lauren Davis (No. 91), Coco Vandeweghe (No. 95) and Melanie Oudin (No. 97)…Remember her?
Considering the U.S. is a country with more elite tennis training and practice facilities than any other country in the world—so many foreign players come to the U.S. to either go to college or train—these rankings do not speak well of how successful we are at developing American players (the men have similar issues as well).
Whether you like them or not, Serena and Venus Williams continue to carry the slowly dimming torch of American women on the professional tennis tour.
Yet Venus is 32 years old and battling Sjögren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease which among other symptoms causes prolonged fatigue. As a result, she now plays even more selectively than before.
Serena Williams recently turned 31 years old, and despite an incredible run of recently winning Wimbledon, an Olympic gold medal and the U.S. Open over a span of three months, it is clear she can still compete at the highest levels...but how much longer does she want to?
At some point reinforcements need to make their presence known. When you look at the rankings (www.wtatennis.com) which give the birth dates of the players, you immediately notice a “lost decade” when it comes to American women. The age range between all the Americans in the Top 100 not named Williams or Lepchenko is 19 to 23 years old.
So what happened to all the other players who have come and gone on the tour between the Williams sisters and those now in the Top 100?
Therein lies the greatest challenge in evaluating tennis talent in a country as large as the USA. Is it the coaching skills? Training regimen? Some players are coached by their parents, the benefits of which (or lack thereof) are debated endlessly.
Or you can always toss the proverbial "We are just as good as always but the rest of the world has caught up to us" thought process into the arena of discussion, too.
This is not a team sport with drafts, trades and training camps. If you believe in basic principles of capitalism, the professional tennis tour, much like golf, is a classic survival of the fittest. The more you win the more money you earn, more sponsors you get and so on.
On the surface, setting aside team competitions like the Federation Cup for women and Davis Cup for men, competitors from the same country are not necessarily the best of friends and willing to work together to help the other. Everyone has his or her own coach. Rarely do they live and train in the same area.
The era of very young teenagers (think Jennifer Capriati) coming on to the professional tour and making a huge immediate sustaining impact is over. Even with the men there is only one teenager ranked in the Top 100! Equipment, training, knowledge and just the fact that players are bigger today all make for a demanding tour.
It is a grinding process; plenty of players grind their whole careers in the Top 100 but are never a threat in any of the major tournaments. Americans look for and want winners.
Melanie Oudin is probably the best known of the group from her exciting run to the 2009 U.S. Open singles quarterfinals as a 17-year-old. Yet while she won the 2011 U.S. Open mixed doubles championship with fellow American Jack Sock, her singles game has suffered since 2009.
This year in the majors she lost in qualifying at the Australian Open; the second round of the French Open, the first round of Wimbledon and, after receiving a wild-card entry into the U.S. Open, lost in the first round.
McHale reached the third round in the first three majors before losing in the first round of the U.S. Open. Stephens reached the second round at the Australian, fourth round of the French and third rounds at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Perhaps this is the most accurate reflection of professional tennis for U.S. women at this point. Other than the Williams sisters, we are currently at a “third round at the majors” talent level, and none of those players has fans overly excited about the immediate future.
LeBron James was finally crowned a champion when he won his first NBA title this earlier this year. Tennis is no different. There are lots of great players, but until you win a major, you are not among the elite.
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