Every once in a while, especially during the U.S. Open, a discussion comes up about the future of U.S. tennis. No American male has won a Grand Slam since 2003, when Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open, and no American seems likely to win anytime soon, with the competition very strong -- even with the missing Rafael Nadal -- thanks to the rest of the Big Four.
Let's break the state of American tennis down, and assess where the USA stands:
How are American players ranked?Tennis rankings are usually a good measure of how good a player is. There are four Americans in the top 30, and one in the top 10. Now, when you consider how much Spain is talked about as a tennis nation, Spain has five players in the top 30, and two in the top 10 -- not too many more than the Americans.
The problem is the Spanish No. 1 is Rafael Nadal, and the American No. 1 is John Isner. That is no disrespect to Isner, who his a fantastic player, but Isner has reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam once; Nadal has 11 Slams.
Herein lies the cruelty of individual sports, and perhaps sports as a whole. There's only winning or losing -- just ask Andy Murray. The Americans, as a whole, are very solid, and very good. They have had very strong Davis Cup performances, including a clean sweep of Roger Federer-led Switzerland. But that is who they are- - good, solid players. They are not magical, not supremely talented, and they simply cannot compete to win a Grand Slam.
Everyone but the men's singles are doing fine
We often forget -- or simply don't care -- about the women's singles and doubles and men's doubles. American's are not the only ones; when Murray was in the 2012 Wimbledon final, everybody was talking about how "Murray could be the first British Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry in 1936!" Yet Virginia Wade actually won the women's singles in 1977, and Andy Murray's own brother, Jamie Murray, actually won the mixed doubles Wimbledon title in 2007.
Similarly, Americans are doing fine in tennis outside of the men's singles. Of the five gold medals available at the 2012 Olympics, Americans won three of them. Serena Williams followed up her destruction of Maria Sharapova to win the women's doubles with her sister Venus Williams, and the great Bryan brothers won men's doubles gold.
Where are the kids?The four Americans in the top 30 are getting old; Isner is 27, Andy Roddick is 29, Mardy Fish is 30, and only Sam Querrey is under 30 at 24 years of age. Bbut in tennis that is not considered young, nor is Querrey considered an able man to carry the American #1 title. To put that into perspective, Nadal is 26 years old (excluding his knees), and Djokovic and Murray are both 25 years old.
Going down the list, Brian Baker, Jesse Levine, and Alex Bogomolov Jr. are all over 24 years old, and nowhere near the top 30. The only young American lurking is the 20-year-old Ryan Harrison, currently ranked #61.
As bad as this sounds, if you think American tennis is garbage now, just wait a few years when Roddick and Fish can no longer compete at this level.
So what does this all mean?This means that American tennis is still fine, for now. Americans still have the best women's singles player, best women's doubles team, and best men's doubles team. Their men's Davis Cup team is still elite, but all of them -- including the Williams sisters and Bryan brothers -- are getting old. The most worrying thing is not their decline, but the lack of youth coming up through the system to replace them.
But really, when Americans worry about the "state of American tennis," they are really hoping for one, just one, magical, talented, men's Grand Slam champion -- and not a young pair of twin brothers good at playing tennis together.
Brian has been a lifelong tennis fan and has written about tennis since 2009.
- Sports & Recreation
- Andy Roddick
- Andy Murray
- Rafael Nadal