Can the Americans withstand the setbacks?
May, 21, 2010
By Peter Bodo | ESPN.com
To most Washingtonians, they might have been mere thunderstorms sweeping through Rock Creek Park on Thursday. But for American tennis players Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner, it was a regular tsunami that swept them out of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic and washed them up on the desolate Beach of the Beaten.
At least they had someone waiting for them there with a driftwood fire and dry clothes. Sam Querrey had been beaten the previous day by Janko Tipsarevic, long before the rains came.
It leaves you wondering what the wipeout bodes for the next few critical weeks, with two ATP Masters 1000 events leading up to the U.S. Open. My theory is that we're looking at a boom or bust summer for U.S. male players. Here's why, on a case-by-case basis in descending order of ranking.
Andy Roddick: The top American, currently clinging to an imperiled No. 9 ranking, has had wildly fluctuating results this year.
"It was just a bad night," Roddick said after losing to Gilles Simon. "I don't really have any defense for it."
This is a very different Roddick from the one we saw winning in Miami (over Tomas Berdych) on a hard court early this year, but Roddick is a well-coached, hard worker. The big question here is, did he hit a plateau in April, after which it's been increasingly difficult for him to marshal his full resources? It happens as players get a lot of mileage on the odometer. Nothing to be done about it.
John Isner: Xavier Malisse, a player of whom much was once expected, is experiencing a resurgence. He won a third-set tiebreaker to beat Long John, and you have to think, "So what?" Isner lives and dies by the tiebreaker, and this time he died. More often than not he survives, so I don't read much into this loss.
Sam Querrey: He sounded almost glad after his loss to Tipsarevic, and you can see why. He won last week's Farmers Classic in Los Angeles, but the run took a lot out of him. Querrey did unexpectedly well in the spring but hit a wall at the French Open and flamed out, badly and dramatically. With two Masters in which Querrey feels pressure to do well coming up, a little additional rest will do him good. If there's such a thing as a "good loss," the 78-minute straight-set spanking he received was it.
Mardy Fish: This guy is the wild card among U.S. players, and he's been playing the best tennis among them all this summer. Since Wimbledon, he's won two titles and 17 of 20 matches, including 11 straight before Marin Cilic ended his streak at the Legg Mason.
The three-set loss to Cilic could hardly be called unexpected. Although Cilic had a woeful grass-court season and has been surprisingly -- and disappointingly -- erratic, he's an ever-dangerous hard-court player.
With the hard-court season kicking into high gear next week in Toronto, the U.S. delegation will need to ramp its collective game. By now, all four men (and let's not forget veteran James Blake, who must have at least one more strong run in his future) have shown that they have sufficient experience to withstand setbacks of the kind they experienced in Washington.
As is often the case in the U.S. and Canada in August, the weather forecast always includes the possibility of violent, if brief, thunderstorms.