Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Tale of Two Americans in Green

Yesterday was not a banner day for American tennis. With a chance to make waves and get excitement and energy flowing through the USTA Tennis Center grounds, Donald Young and Bradley Klahn both came crashing to the ground, winning one set combined and (in Young's case) giving the fans little besides temper tantrums. It was a depressing start to our nation's championship and one that hurt American tennis fans and television executives alike. But as a Bahamian janitor once said to me after he accidentally turned the power off on my radio show in the middle of a live broadcast in Nassau, "don't worry about the mistakes of today, tomorrow is a new day."  It didn't calm me down then (we were never able to get back on the air), but it gave me peace as applied to American male tennis going into today.

And as we sit here in the mid-afternoon, the early results are mixed. Two Americans took the court in loud green shirts (there are those that argue the proliferation of neon shirts in tennis is a bad thing...those people are the worst and if adequately represented by the photographer sitting next to me whining at this very moment, smell like salmon) and the result was mixed.  Sam Querrey won a hard-fought five set victory over Maximo Gonzalez (an Outer Courts favorite last year), that saw the young American bounce back from a number of heartbreaking opportunities which he nearly let slip away. Gonzalez, a clay court specialist whose style is essentially that of a tennis backboard, made nothing easy for Sam, but by putting together a string of top-notch service games in the final set, Querrey was able to squeak away with the victory.

Jack Sock was not so lucky. After an uneven performance that saw him down two sets to one, Sock retired with a foot injury before the start of the fourth. It was a tough ending to the summer for Sock who seemed finally on the cusp of making a big move  to the Top 40 with a draw that gave him a potential path to the Round of 16 and a career-making match with Milos Raonic. Instead, Sock found his tournament ended in the same way as the other hot American of the summer, Donald Young, with a disappointing performance in front of a lackluster crowd on the Grandstand.

As a longtime fan of Kentucky football, I know the pain and strife of cheering for something that is in the midst of a long struggle. But American men's tennis has become downright putrid. While there are some young players that give hope (Noah Rubin being one and he too got smoked in three sets today...but let's just look past that for a moment), the "now" generation is decidedly a bust. John Isner is a Top 10 player without any Top 10 results and the rest of the American roster can best be summed up by a description of a fellow fraternity member of mine in college....they "exceed in mediocrity." It was only 25 years ago that 22 of the top 50 players in the world were American. Now that number stands at three and may dip to one after this week.

Of all the major sports in the world, America's stature in men's tennis is likely the worst relative to other countries of all.  It is depressing for those of us yearning for the days of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang, or even reminiscing of the so-so years of Roddick, Martin and Blake. Hopefully something new will be on the horizon (maybe James Donaldson, who I am going to watch take on Gael Monfils this afternoon), but for now, all we have are a couple of big serves, some green shirts and the best double entendre name on tour. It is a sad state of affairs.