The epic Wimbledon final of July 6 made the cover of Sports Illustrated, drew the event's highest ratings in eight years, and even prompted a round of self-castigation from Sports Guy and tennis critic Bill Simmons.
From the standpoint of an American tennis fan, it accomplished something else: it helped us to forget the sorry state of our nation’s contribution to the men’s game.
The year had started out so promising, too. The U.S. team’s December victory in the Davis Cup (our first in 12 years) seemed to have prompted American tennis players to start the year strong.
Leading up to June, this is what our players had accomplished:
Andy Roddick rebounded from an early exit it the Australian Open to win two titles, including a fairly prestigious one in Dubai. During that week, he beat number two Rafael Nadal and number three Novak Djokovic back-to-back.
A few weeks later he capped the tri-fecta, beating number one Roger Federer in Miami-only his second win against The Fed in 17 meetings. He put up a very respectable showing in Rome, beating Tommy Robredo and reaching the semis.
James Blake, after a lackluster 2007 season, seemed to have been boosted dramatically by the Davis Cup result, as he started by reaching the Aussie Open quarters.
Mardy Fish got to the final of Indian Wells, racking up a shockingly lopsided win over The Fed in the process.
Sam Querrey won his first title in Las Vegas in March, then beat Carlos Moya and Richard Gasquet to make the quarters of Monte Carlo.
Then May ended, and the news hadn’t been good since.
Roddick injured his shoulder in Rome and didn’t play again until Queen’s. His loss to Nadal at that event was understandable (Nadal was in the middle of his current 24-match win streak).
His perplexing loss to Janko Tipsarevic in round two of Wimbledon was much less so, especially considering that Tipso lost two rounds later to Rainer Schuettler. Such a result can be attributed to lack of match play, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be ready for the summer hard courts.
After his Monte Carlo performance, Querrey lost all but two matches through Wimbledon, including first round exits there and at Roland Garros. His Wimbledon loss was to former number one Juan Carlos Ferrero, which wouldn’t look so bad, except JCF fell in the very next round.
James Blake’s title drought has extended to almost one year (his most recent was in New Haven last summer). Charismatic and charming, Blake has the potential to be a transcendent star were he at the top of the game. However, his forehand-reliant approach is all-too-common in today’s game for him to win major titles.
At this point, it would be an improvement if he could even win minor ones, rather than lose finals to the likes of 18-year-old Kei Nishikori (in Delray Beach) and 58th-ranked Marcel Granollers (in Houston).
Mardy Fish’s clay court season was a near-total bust, and he was thoroughly out-classed at Wimbledon by Gasquet.
Donald Young has yet to validate the hype that surrounds him.
John Isner has yet to use his monster serve to win even the gaggle of third-tier titles that Ivo Karlovic racks up.
Robby Ginepri was the only American in the fourth round at RG, but his only other meaningful accomplishment as of late is to continue to look totally ripped in his sleeveless shirts.
The turnaround over the past 15 years or so for the Americans is so drastic that even Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria mentioned it as a metaphor for globalization. In his book “The Post-American World,” Zakaria said that the dominance of Americans is over in tennis and many other fields now that “the rest of the world is playing the game.”
America, however, still has a place at the top in business and military terms, even if other nations are becoming more competitive. In tennis, globalization has left us behind.
How can this be changed? For starters, the best athletes in America are not playing the sport. Players like Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal basically had a choice between tennis and football (soccer - not the American version, of course).
The best athletes in America, however, are playing American football, basketball or running track. Unless the USTA can get to them early, America will continue fielding its B-team on the tennis courts against the rest of the world’s best. Hopefully the Williams sisters can inspire America’s best athletes of all race and class to pick up racquets.
Secondly, American players lack dimension. The phrase “big forehand” has lost all meaning in the game today, because virtually everyone can tear the cover off the ball from that side.
The game’s big three of The Fed, Rafa, and Djoko have the most complete games; they are the toughest mentally and their games are the most adaptable to all surfaces. American players need to get used to hard, grass, and clay courts at a young age.
Maybe it’s too late for this crop of Americans. If so, let’s hope the coaches of tomorrow's players are learning from our current struggles.
The Davis Cup may never be ours for the taking again, but we shouldn’t have to wait another 12 years for it.
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