US Tennis Players Have Fallen Behind Their European Counterparts

Bell Malley@milesmalleyAnalyst IIISeptember 18, 2011

LONDON - JUNE 12:  Andy Roddick of USA warms up on the practice courts as coach Jimmy Connors looks on during Day 2 of the Artois Championships at The Queen's Club on June 12, 2007 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

During tennis' last golden era, the top ranking slots were infested with Americans. The Yanks dominated the sport, piling up majors and forming great rivalries between national heroes. 

Tennis fans were always prepared for the highly-entertaining John McEnroe vs. Jimmy Connors encounters or the showdown between the contrasting styles of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.

Fast-forward to the game's next golden era, and gone are the days when John McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis, Jimmy Connors and Roscoe Tanner were the four semifinalists at the US Open.

Instead, European superstars Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray hold the top four spots, and the highest ranked American is No. 8, Mardy Fish, who was too addicted to Five Guys to play good tennis when his age best allowed him to.

From 1979 to 2003, an American man won a major in 25 of 29 years. In the eight since, they have won zero.

Wow, how the times have changed.

Other than Andy Roddick, they have not reached a single slam final since Agassi won his last one at the 2003 Australian Open.

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NEW YORK - AUGUST 28:  Tennis legend Jimmy Connors (L) and John McEnroe attend the opening ceremony on the first day of the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on August 28, 2006 in the Flushing neig
Al Bello/Getty Images

The lowest point came on May 8th, 2011, when not a single American player, man or woman, was in the top 10. That day was the first time it ever happened since rankings were initiated in 1976.

This year, fans rejoiced that two men from their country made the quarterfinals. Before, it was typical that many were in the championship game.

What in the world happened? 

Well, for starters, the American coaches have quite a way of wasting talent.

The list of all the recent top juniors make it seem as if Americans are ready to take over the game.

At 16, Donald Young was far and away the most highly-touted player in the world. He cruised to wins at three junior Grand Slams and then disappeared. Recently, Young went to the fourth round at the US Open. Many considered this a breakthrough performance.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08:  Donald Young of the United States reacts against Andy Murray of Great Britain during Day Eleven of the 2011 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

But let's be real.

The guy just hit a stroke of luck, played good matches, got a good draw for his playing style and mostly just fed off the fans' energy.

In truth, he might be a top 20 player who ends up making a few decent runs during tournaments. Nothing more.

How is it that a boy with such high expectations is now a man content with winning a couple of matches?

Well, the secret is: American coaches suck.

In ESPN the magazine, NBA Player X wrote:

Let me tell you American basketball's dirty little secret: Our coaches are terrible. And not just in the NBA. Coaches across the whole game stink -- high school, AAU, college. They've grown fat on our natural athletic abilities, and they've gotten lazy. Nobody coaches fundamentals anymore. We might as well rename the NBA the AABA: African-American Basketball Association. (I'm black, by the way.) It's basically a very talented street-ball league. Americans simply can't dribble, pass, work the post or shoot the rock as well as our foreign counterparts, like Dirk Nowitzki. And their coaches get the credit for that.

Overseas, coaches still drill their players in the fundamentals and teach them how to play the game. A guy like the Pistons' Chris Wilcox -- who can barely dribble or shoot after all these years -- simply wouldn't slip through the cracks over there. Had he grown up in Europe, Wilcox, with his size and athleticism, would be a serious force. Players are beginning to realize that if they go overseas, even for a season, they'll come back with more skills, and that translates into greater success and better contracts back here.

This, unfortunately, holds true for tennis as well.

Nowadays, every single American player is being taught one style, thus their games are based on two things: serve and forehand.

Andy Roddick is you A-typical American player: huge serve, big forehand, yet nothing on the backhand or at the net.

This type of teaching doesn't necessarily bode well with all players.

Jack Sock, for example, has a good backhand, and has great feel around the net. Yet, he seems afraid to pounce in after a short ball, and is running around his backhands to crack forehands.

In the US Open second round against Roddick, Sock played a good match, but the final score read that he got crushed.

This is because he was going for his shots, cranking his serves into the 135 mph zone, and taking a cut at every forehand he got.

I'm sorry, but that doesn't seem like the right game-plan for this youngster.

On one side of his box sat Jose Higueras, a polished clay-court player, who played a style that looks a little like Sock when he won in Kalamazoo in 2010. He would hit looping forehands and cut his serve out wide. This style of play, even on hard-court, works. Higueras works well for him.

On the other side was Mike Wolf, a man trying to "Americanize" Sock's game. This is what we saw from him against Roddick. It didn't work.

Sock's playing style as a young kid must have been that of a clay-court player. Let him be what suits him best.

Americans train as if there is only one surface.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 02:  Jack Sock of the United States congratulates Andy Roddick of the United States after their match during Day Five of the 2011 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2011 in the Flushing nei
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Every player becomes a hard-court player.

Look at all the best American players and for all you would expect their best results to take place on hard. Now, let's take a look at some of the top tennis countries and the diversity they have in their players.


France may be the most diverse of any countries, because the top five French players all play different styles.

Gael Monfils: The athletic World No. 7 plays a defensive-minded game, in which he rarely ventures from the baseline.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Tsonga bases his game on a powerful serve and forehand, but has a surprisingly delicate touch around the net.

Gilles Simon: Simon is a bit of a "pusher" but he makes his opponent work for every single point. He is very well suited for clay.

Richard Gasquet: Gasquet has the tour's prettiest backhand, and uses it with tremendous effectiveness. Probably has the most pure talent of the French contingent and plays a game very reminiscent to Roger Federer's.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05:  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (R) of France shakes hands with Mardy Fish (L) of the United States after their match during Day Eight of the 2011 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 5, 2011 in the Flu
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Michael Llodra: Llodra is the last true serve-and-volley player on tour. He has struggled on clay in his career, but is a great doubles player, and is seen as a threat at Wimbledon, which is played on grass, his best surface.

Probably the best tennis country is Spain, who is known to groom prototypical clay courters. However, in their group of top players, there is one player best suited for hard courts: big-hitting Fernando Verdasco. And Feliciano Lopez, the big serving lefty, is the one grass-court player.

Compare France and Spain to the US where Roddick, Fish, James Blake, Sam Querrey, and John Isner have all produced their best results on hard-courts.

The only player from the list above who doesn't pride his game on a serve and forehand is Fish (no wonder he's the highest ranked of them!)

Another valid reason was recently made by John McEnroe in GQ:

"We haven't done a very good job with this all-or-nothing to training young people. I think it can detrimental to a lot of kids, where they sort of live and breathe it too young. American kids are burned out early. I benefited from living a quote-unquote normal life. I played recently with Ryan Harrison. He's a great prospect, but if you're talking about a guy who is going to have a really solid career versus a guy who's going to be number one in the world, those are two different animals. There's no one coming out in the next year or two where we'll say, 'Oh, my God, here he is'".

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 12:  Jack Sock of the United States (R) is presented with an award after defeating Denis Kudla of the United States during their junior boys' singles final match on day fourteen of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King Natio
Nick Laham/Getty Images

American tennis players are suffering from burnout. They are rushed into playing challengers without very good training on how to play top players.

They start playing at 14, and by the time they are 22, they are all but done. They have no gas left, physically or mentally.

Yes, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were rushed into the tennis world at quite a young age, but they are absolutely different specimens.

Especially Nadal, who was in a man's body by 14, so he could obviously ball with the big guys from a young age.

Americans just get bored of tennis, even McEnroe, who was a great player, struggled after six great years on the pro circuit. He started a 17 but was burned out at 25, and already physically able to compete with veterans.

When you are a rushed 13 years old, the burnout comes much earlier.

The only way for the USTA to fix these issues, is to realize these issues.

If they keep going down the same road, the last win for the US in major will stay the same for a long, long time.