Springtime weather in Paris is unpredictable, as are the Americans at the French Open, either floundering on the red clay or fighting in the final weekend.
USA tennis has seen the lowest of lows, with no American man reaching the second round in 2007, to champions such as Michael Chang, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati and Chris Evert (to name a few).
Although there are no more American men left as the French Open is in the middle of Week 2, this tournament is still a major step forward for the state of American tennis both on the men's and, especially, on the women’s side.
Lets look at both the veterans and young guns that have proved they can compete on the European red clay.
For starters, the highest-ranked Americans, Sam Querrey and John Isner, came out swinging in their third-round battles, both losing in five sets.
But once again, Isner was the headline for the first week, saving 12 match points in the fourth set, eventually losing 7-5, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-7 (10), 10-8 to German and 35-year-old Tommy Haas.
And Isner knew he played well, saying in his post-match interview, “I fought a good fight. Even down two sets to love, I still was fighting and it helped me. In hindsight, it probably would have been better to lose in straight sets, because I feel terrible right now,” as reported by BBC Sport.
Though Isner had his chances in the fifth set—as did Querrey, being up two sets to one on Gilles Simon—these are still considered respectable losses because both Querrey and Isner reached the latter stages during Week 1.
However, what was really encouraging on the men’s side was the younger generation stepping up. Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison reached the second round after straight-set wins in their first-round matches.
Harrison had Isner on the ropes in the second round, almost squeaking out the win, but proved that he still has a lot to learn on clay.
Although it might still be some time before an American man reaches the quarterfinals or better in Paris, these results are encouraging for the future of American tennis on the men’s side.
Looking at the women, this marks the first time since 2004 where the USA had four women in the round of 16 in Paris.
Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens aren’t strangers to the second week of Slams, but veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands and youngster Jamie Hampton were the shockers, upsetting Grand Slam champions Na Li and Petra Kvitova, respectively.
Excluding Serena (who’s the heavy favorite to win in Paris), this is welcome news for the future state of American tennis. But Hampton and Stephens still have lessons to learn, as they lost in straight sets Monday. However, this was Stephens' second appearance in the fourth round at the French Open and will continue to get better on clay.
In the end (and as expected) Serena is the last American standing in both draws, reaching the semifinals for the first time since 2003. And if the tournament plays out like the rest of the clay season, Serena will be crowned French Open champion for the second time in her career.
Though this is a small step for the state of American tennis, it’s great to see the younger generation embracing the clay and not avoiding it.
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