September 5, 2012 began a new chapter in American tennis as Andy Roddick lost the last match of his career in New York and handed the invisible torch (and weight of critics) off to John Isner, Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey—all of whom had mediocre 2012 seasons, at best. Whether you were a fan or not, it’s safe to say that Roddick left a big hole to fill in the American game.
The question is not if they (Isner/Fish/Querrey) can replace Roddick, but if they can make America a tennis powerhouse again.
So, what can we expect at the first Grand Slam and 2013 season overall from the American men?
Isner was busy this offseason, hiring new coach Michael Sell, replacing Craig Boynton.
Isner told NY Times, “I had a great run with Craig, learned a lot and felt like I improved every year. I just felt like it was time for a different voice. CB and I will remain great friends, and he will always be someone I can go to for help or advice.”
Isner finished 2012 ranked as the top American at No. 14. Hopefully, Sell can reshape Isner’s game to get him back in the top 10. But don’t expect this transformation to happen overnight. The bad news for 2013? Isner just pulled out of the Hopman Cup early last week with knee tendinitis. Not being 100 percent at majors will be a problem, especially if/when one of his matches goes five sets.
The tennis world has seen flashes of what Isner is capable of. Is 2013 the season when he'll finally break through at majors? Isner took the right step in getting a new voice in his camp, and if he’s healthy, he can do damage on the ATP tour. Isner will have success in Slams in 2013, but not in Australia.
Fish, on the other hand, had a rough nine months thanks to a health scare, and he missed two-and-a-half months due to a cardiac catheter ablation procedure. Fish is more than ready for a new season and hopes to recreate his 2011 season, ending the year in the top 10 and making his first trip to the year-ending championships.
However, he withdrew from the 2013 Australian Open in December, so the trail back to the top just got a little longer. Should he regain his strength and health, Fish, the veteran of the group, has the consistent game to crack back into the top 10.
Hopefully Fish, armed with enthusiasm, can shine during his last years on tour and not fade away like Roddick.
As for California’s Sam Querrey, he, like Isner, is a big question mark. Querrey was plagued with injuries in 2011, having to face the comeback trail last season. While on that trail, he captured a win over Novak Djokovic at the Paris Masters and played an entertaining (and second-longest match) at Wimbledon versus Marin Cilic, succumbing 15-17 in the final set.
Like Isner, Querrey is plagued with an inconsistent groundstroke game. Unlike Isner, Querrey has yet to make an impact at the Grand Slams—like reaching the final eight, for instance. Look for Querrey to maintain a top 30 ranking but again struggle at the Slams. Querrey might want to take the 2006 Andy Roddick approach and change up his game and develop new weapons, such as a slice backhand or aggressive net game—which actually has improved, thanks to Querrey’s doubles partnership with Isner.
Who will be the top-ranked American at the end of 2013?
Along with these three, Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock are also worth mentioning because it’s only a matter of time before these two crack into the top 20. Though Harrison has been around longer and thus has had a little more success, look for Sock to breakthrough in 2013, grabbing wins in ATP level events. Like Isner and Querrey, Sock possesses a powerful serve. If Harrison can control his temper on court, look for him to also continue his breakthrough into the top 50.
All and all, the American men, aside from the youngsters, look pretty beat up going into the Australian Open. If Isner can recover, he is the best bet for reaching the second week.
2013 could turn out a lot like 2012 with unpredictable American tennis; however, look for Isner, Querrey and Fish to regain their health and try to fill the "Roddick void" that has spoiled Americans over the last decade.