The State of U.S. Men's Tennis: Heading into the Australian Open

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IJanuary 16, 2010

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 10:  Andy Roddick of the USA poses with the trophy after winning his final match against Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic during day eight of the Brisbane International 2010 at Queensland Tennis Centre on January 10, 2010 in Brisbane, Australia.  (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Nearly seven years. Nearly seven years is how long it has been since an American man has won a tennis single grand slam. That is, if no U.S. men’s tennis player wins the Australian Open over the next two weeks.

The last two Americans to win a Grand Slam were Andre Agassi in the Australian Open and Andy Roddick in the US Open, both in 2003. Since then, Agassi has retired and admitted to smoking meth, wearing wigs, and hating the sport in which he won eight grand slams.

As far as wins, the drought is much longer in the French Open and Wimbledon. An American player has not won the French Open since 1999 (Agassi again) or Wimbledon since 2000 (Pete Sampras).

Not only have wins been hard to come by for U.S. men’s tennis players, but making it through the draw to the finals has been tough as well. Since the last grand slam win by an American player, there have been 23 grand slam finals, and a U.S. player has only made five of the 23 finals.

To break down that stat above even more, only two men have made the five finals. Those men were Agassi (one US Open final) and Roddick (three Wimbledon Finals and one US Open final).

The state of U.S. men’s tennis has become so dire that there is currently only one U.S. player ranked in the top ten and only two ranked in the top 25 of the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings. Those two players are Roddick, ranked seventh, and Sam Querrey ranked 25th by the ATP.

To equate how bad the rankings are, there are three countries with just as many players in the top 25: Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Russia. Just to add more to that thought, there are two countries with more players ranked in the top 25: France and Spain.

While the U.S. men have struggled making singles finals and winning them, the U.S. women have had no such trouble. Over the same time period since the last men’s single grand slam title, 13 women have reached the finals out of 23 grand slams.

The same three women have all made all 13 finals, and four times these women made it an all U.S. ladies final. The only grand slam the ladies have struggled in has been the French Open, with no men’s or women’s player making the final since 2002.

The women are Serena Williams, who made seven finals; Venus Williams, who made four finals; and Lindsay Davenport, who made two finals. To add even more weight to the success of the women to the men, the ladies have won nine titles to the gentlemen’s two titles since 2003. All the titles were won by the Williams sisters.

So the question has to be, why have U.S. men's tennis players struggled so badly for the last seven years? All the answers are not quite as easy as they might seem, but there are four reasons for the lack of U.S. men’s grand slam dominance.


1. U.S. Men’s Tennis Needs at Least Two Great Players To Be Successful

First of all, the best times U.S. men’s tennis sees are when there are at least two great players to push each other. The first time this happened was the 1970s.

During this time, U.S. men’s tennis saw great players like Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe, who all were able to reach finals and win gand slams until the early to mid 1980s. In the late 80s to early 90s, American men’s tennis saw Michael Chang and Jim Courier take up the mantle.

Although Chang and Courier were not as dominant as the American players before them, they did bridge the gap between the great players from the 1970s to the rise of Sampras and Agassi.

U.S. men’s tennis has only seen a drought twice during this golden age. The first drought was at the Australian Open, which lasted 11 years (1978-91)—even though one of the 11 years the tournament was not played.

The second drought was at Wimbledon, which lasted seven years (1985-91).  Only the US Open has not seen a drought that lasted for seven years. The longest drought there was five years.

The clay courts of the French Open have never been kind to men’s American tennis players. Since 1968, American men have only won four French Open single titles.



2. U.S. Women’s Success Is a Sign of U.S. Men’s Failure

Secondly, and the oddest part of American men’s tennis struggles, might be traced back to the success of American women’s tennis. It seems that nearly every time the American men struggle, the women enjoy a great deal of achievement.

When the men struggled in the Australian Open for 11 years, the women won six titles. While the men suffered at Wimbledon seven years, the women won four titles.

The ladies have even have had better luck on clay then the men. American women have won 13 single titles since 1968.

It seems that the American women need to have struggles of their own if the men are to return to the top of the tennis world. Until then, the men might have to keep watching their female counterparts hold up trophies at the end of finals.


3. Andy Roddick Needs Help Carrying the U.S. Men’s Tennis Banner

The third part leads back to the first in a way. While American men’s tennis is at its best when there are at least two great players, the men do have one very good player in Roddick.

Roddick has been the only American since Agassi retired in 2006 to reach a grand slam final. He is also the only current men’s player to have won a grand slam title.

Players the same age as Roddick such as James Blake, Mardy Fish, Michael Russell, and Taylor Dent have to rise up and help Roddick before their time on the court begins to set. At the age of 27, Roddick is starting to see the twilight of his career coming.

Roddick was playing some of his best tennis and achieving his highest rankings before Agassi and Sampras retired. He seemed to be pushed in his early career by the two legends he would later replace as the best U.S. men’s tennis player.

There is no question that Roddick has not had a bad a career and has been ranked in the top 10 for most of it. But, that does not mean it would not have been better with at least one other great player to come up with him.

Even if Roddick and his contemporaries do not find success soon, U.S. men’s tennis has stars in the waiting. Players like Querrey, John Isner, Rajeev Ram, and Devin Britton are awaiting their turn.


4. The Rise of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

The last reason for the struggles of U.S. men’s tennis is also another sort of coincidence. It seems every time the men struggle, there are great players from other countries that dominate the sport.

When the American men struggled at the U.S. Open, Australian Open, and the French Open, they were foiled by Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Björn Borg, and Boris Becker. All four men won multiple grand slam singles titles.

These players were able to stem the tide of American players at different times but mainly during grand slam title droughts. As they began fade away, American players began to press their dominance again.

The same thing has happened once more after the retirement of Agassi and Sampras. This time a Spaniard and Swiss player have controlled the tennis landscape for the last six to seven years.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have had little trouble with anyone in the world of tennis except for each other. Since they both burst onto the scene in 2003-04, the two have won 21 total Grand Slam titles.

As Sampras and Agassi began their fade into the twilight, the era of Federer and Nadal started. The American men might have to wait until these two titans' careers start to reach the sunset.

No American men’s tennis player will have a chance to win a grand slam title unless they can learn to defeat Federer or Nadal. Because it is either beat them or wait until they retire.


The problems with the American men and their struggles winning grand slams are nothing new. These droughts go on for awhile, and then there is a return to dominance.

Will that return to ascendancy begin at the 2010 Australian Open? The only way to find out is if American players can beat Federer and Nadal.

For U.S. Tennis fans the future looks bright, and the return hopefully is coming. For Andy Roddick, his time is dwindling and he needs help to make his legacy a lasting one. 


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