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From the Baseline: Where Have All the Americans Gone?

Aug 6, 2010 – 7:00 PM
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Knox Bardeen

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Andy RoddickEach Friday, Knox Bardeen's From the Baseline serves up an inside look at a hot topic in tennis.

American tennis star Andy Roddick was on top of the tennis world at the end of 2003. On November 3 of that year Roddick grabbed the No. 1 spot on the ATP tour and kept it for nine weeks. Since then, no American man has held the top spot in tennis.

This isn't, however, an opinion that American tennis is dead because no one can claim the overall No. 1 ranking. No, American tennis is dead because on Monday, when the new rankings are released by the ATP, there won't be an American in the top 10. Not a single one.

This is an anomaly of sorts; since the ATP went to computer rankings in 1973 there has always been at least one American in the top 10. That streak will be broken next week.

There has always been a guy, maybe two, that bleed red, white and blue, showing the rest of the world that tennis still means something in the states. Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe dominated the game in the late 70s and 80s. Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi did America proud in the 90s and into the new millennia. But lately, American men just aren't getting it done.

The torch was handed from Agassi to Roddick in 2003, and he was supposed to run with that torch for some time. But he was also supposed to get some help from the likes of Mardy Fish, John Isner and Sam Querrey. That help just hasn't come yet, and Roddick's game seems to be slipping at just the wrong moment.

After winning the Sony Ericsson Masters event in Miami this March, Roddick has made it past the third round in just two of the five events he's entered. He was sent home early from the French Open and Queen's Club, and made it to the fourth round at Wimbledon before coming home to America and friendly hard-court action.

In Atlanta he was ousted in the semis by best friend Fish and was just upset at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in the third round by Gilles Simon.

James BlakeJust about every American tennis player you speak to will tell you the same thing. It goes something to the effect of being great to be back in the States and able to play on hard courts. Fish and James Blake both made huge points before the Atlanta Tennis Championships -- the first event in the U.S. Open Series -- to say that they looked forward to this time of year. Being able to play on hard courts is what Americans live for.

Well, now the quarterfinals of the Legg Mason tournament are getting ready to begin and not one American is to be found -- just like the next rankings list. If Roddick and the rest of the boys in Stars and Stripes can't win the hard-court tournaments they say they look forward to all year, how can anyone imagine they'll be able to climb the rankings? It's almost as if the American men are at a disadvantage. If they are only going to play on hard courts, they can only excel in two of the four Grand Slam events. And if they can't consistently beat everyone else in the 50 percent of the tournaments that are geared for their game, there's no way imaginable that they'll be a force among the men's rankings.

Fish preached health and consistency after his successful grass-court run and win at Newport before the U.S. Open Series began. "You have to be consistent to have a really high ranking."

While Roddick is unable to zero in on his game, Blake unable to come back from injury and Isner and Querrey still finding themselves on tour, only Fish seems to be in a good enough place right now to help carry American men's tennis. And since he spent so much of the last year injured himself, he's not going to factor into the top 10 in rankings for some time. And that's if he can keep up the level of play that helped him win in Newport and Atlanta, but escaped him in Washington D.C. this week.

Right now, it's not a safe bet at all to pick any of the American's to push through and win at the U.S Open next month. It's not even a good time to ask one of them to step up to get back into the top 10 in the rankings.

At least not anytime soon.
Filed under: Sports