And, poof, just like that, American tennis is gone. No, not just from the Australian Open, where the last American man standing, John Isner, lost before the first weekend of the year’s first major. US tennis is gone from the world map, too.
The top players have faded, and the bottom ones aren’t good enough. This is the moment US tennis has been nervous about for years:
Not one American man is good enough even to contend for a major championship. Forget Wimbledon. Forget the US Open. And only one woman, Serena Williams, is good enough. She will hide the problems in women’s tennis in the United States for a little while longer.
But the men? They are a vacuum.
It has been coming for years. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors passed the baton to Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, who passed it to Andy Roddick, who managed to win just one major. But still, he was a top player. And now? Roddick has crossed the finish line and put the baton on the ground somewhere. No one will take it. You want it? It’s yours.
Start with an image: Teenager Andrea Collarini, the Argentine-turned-American claycourt specialist, walks onto a clay court in the U.S. with his coach, Diego Moyano. The United States Tennis Association hired Moyano away from Argentina, too, to work with Collarini and teach Americans about clay court tennis.
So he and Collarini walk onto the court together for maybe the first time in the U.S., and their arms are out as if they are tightrope walkers. They are walking carefully, afraid they’ll fall.
OK? I’ll get back to that. Now this:
One thing is bugging me. And I think it’s another example of why the USTA isn’t having success developing top players. We’re in the red clay season on tour, which is the red-faced season for American tennis. We can’t play on the stuff, but it’s now generally accepted as the ideal learning ground.
Well, the news Monday was that for the first time in the 38 years since they’ve had computer rankings, no American player, man or woman, is in the top 10. It might be the first time ever, even before computers.
The USTA, led by player development chief Patrick McEnroe, is trying everything from putting all top juniors together at a central training facility to letting them stay near home in regional ones. Also, the USTA has put in clay courts, protected struggling low-level pro events that are on clay, and moved a top junior tourney to clay.
It is either a calculated, precise effort to develop American tennis, or they’re just throwing everything at the wall and hoping something will stick.
To me, the USTA effort is a mess. 1) It can’t even get along with the guy who was considered for years to be its top prodigy, Donald Young, who recently wrote on Twitter: “Fu—USTA!!’’ 2) It was so desperate that it bought another top prospect, Collarini, who was born in the U.S., but grew up in Argentina and learned all his tennis there. 3) The top of the game lacks Americans. 4) The up-and-comers are hitting a ceiling. 5) No one is about to emerge. 6) There is an incredible shortage of good coaches.
I keep telling myself that maybe that’s a little unfair. Maybe a governing body can’t build a champion. Maybe it will come together somehow, someway, some time.
Then we get to the efforts to get U.S. juniors learning on clay. Continue reading
Greg Couch is an award-winning sports columnist based in Chicago. He covers college football for BleacherReport.com, NFL for RollingStone.com and freelances at several other places, including The New York Times. Lots of tennis, mostly here. He has traveled the world covering tennis and is a member of the International Tennis Writers Association. A former sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, his tennis writing has been in the book "The Best American Sportswriting."