US men’s tennis has been in a dismal place since Andy Roddick retired. John Isner has hung around the top 10 for several years, but he also tends to clean-up at 250 level events on US soil. Isner has reached one career Grand Slam quarterfinal and Robby Ginepri has reached one career Grand Slam semifinal. That is the extent of tennis played beyond the round of 16 by US men currently on tour. It gets worse when one considers that Ginepri is largely playing minor league events these days.
Young, Isner, Sock and Johnson
Donald Young has been a surprise entry in the round of 32 at Roland Garros this year. He’s looked imperious as well. With Wawrinka out, Young could beat Garcia-Lopez and reach the round of 16. On clay, I think Young is the underdog vs. Garcia-Lopez, but a plausible path for advancement exists. John Isner has banged his way through two matches and currently leads by 1 set over clay court stalwart Tommy Robredo. Isner is two sets from a round of 16 showing on a slow(er) surface. Jack Sock is into the round of 32. He took advantage of Almagro’s retirement in the first round and now stands 1 winnable match away from a round of 16 showdown with Rafael Nadal. Sock beat fellow-Yank Steve Johnson in the round of 32 showing that US tennis is not toast.
3 out of 16? Not Bad for a Mid Major
Most NCAA conferences would be very happy with three of their basketball teams reaching the sweet 16. US men’s tennis has been more of less a mid major player in the world of Spain, Serbia, Switzerland and Argentina. If the three US born players win their next matches, it would be a surprise given historical troubles US born players have had on red clay (sans Trabert, Chang, Courier, and Agassi).
I still don’t see this as a cause for happiness. The days of teenagers breaking through are over. So Young, Johnson and Isner making decent showings may show if a player sticks with it, he too can win matches but not challenge for Grand Slam titles. Heck, if Sam Querrey gets healthy and Ryan Harrison catches a few breaks the ranks may swell to levels not seen since Jay Berger and Tim Mayotte were representing the Stars and Stripes. Obviously, being one of the 50 best people in the world at anything is impressive, and tennis is no easy task. US tennis is not where it once was and no one should confuse a few wins in Paris with a return to former levels of prominence.
Help Us Jack Sock You’re Our Only Hope
Jack Sock has more upside and is younger than the other three. He has a big serve and a forehand that harness spin like few others. Could he be the one? I can’t say. I do think a nation that produced multiple Grand Slam champions such as Arthur Ashe, Tony Trabert, Stan Smith, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, and Andre Agassi along with single Slam winners Vitas Gerulatus, Roscoe Tanner, Michael Chang, and Andy Roddick (not to mention slam runner-ups such as Todd Martin, and Malivai Washington) will embrace Sock if he becomes a contender.
He’s got a live arm
The USTA could simply claim players from other countries. ESPN radio claimed Andy Murray was an American on May 29, 2014. Germany tried to claim Stanislas Wawrinka after the Australian Open. I can see it now, “Novak Djokovic from Monkeys Eyebrow, Kentucky (or Rafael Nadal from Rabbit Hash, Kentucky) is your 2014 French Open champion!”