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Monday, August 6, 2007
Proud to be an American


Gee, Sunday felt just like old times again! Two Americans (Andy Roddick and John Isner) in the final of the big summer hard-court tournament in Washington, D.C. and a faux American, Maria Sharapova (but she's a true-blue Russian to the bone, honest! She just can't imagine actually living there) winning in San Diego.

All I can say is, just in a nick of time.

Since Wimbledon, the hard-court results have been a slap in the face of American tennis. Time was, you got to Los Angeles and Indianapolis and Washington and U.S. players (Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Michael Chang -- remember them?) would gorge on wins like so many beet-red summer tourists at the Red Lobster. (Today's special: 500 jumbo shrimp and a whole, deep-fried Alaskan halibut, $5.99!)

Roddick's win Sunday was the first for a U.S. male in a ATP level tournament this summer, and it was facilitated by the fact that the Big Dogs of Europe (Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic still hadn't cleared U.S. Customs at Kennedy.) Now, there's an idea: a homeland security watch list for tennis players committed to terrorizing American pros.

As much fun as it was at that picnic in Washington (thanks, Isner!) , the real hard-court season begins this week in Montreal. Last week, Arnaud Clement and Lee Hyung Taik -- a pair of players outside the Top 25 -- were the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. This week in Montreal, those honors go to World No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko and No. 3 Roddick.

Here are just some of the potential Montreal matchups: Marcos Baghdatis vs. Carlos Moya; Lleyton Hewitt vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero (the dude really is playing well again, honest); and Djokovic vs. Nicolas Kiefer. Plus we have the return of Mario Ancic an Andy Murrary. And Nadal and Federer are in the house, too. Toto, I have a funny feeling we're not in Rock Creek anymore.

Roddick will have his work cut out for him: He is a combined 2-15 against the No. 1 and 2 men's players (1-13 vs. Federer). That we know. What we don't know, as of today, is whether or not Isner, the 6-10 former Georgia Bulldog with the whopper server, is ready for prime time. His breakout in Rock Creek was both magical and classic. Anybody remember teen androgyn Andre Agassi at Stratton Mountain, Vt.? There's nothing -- absolutely nothing -- as helpful to a player as making a big, rookie statement. You can build an entire career on a performance like Isner just turned in, because it's fear, not forehands, that makes the tennis world go round. The big question is: Does Isner have the game and mental toughness to build on this great breakout, and convince his rivals that he's more than a fluke?

We'll have to wait until Cincinnati (Isner has wild card) for the next installment of this saga, but on Sunday it was a pretty good be an American -- let's hope the feeling lasts for at least another day.

Join Peter Bodo's next chat on Wednesday, Aug. 8 at 1 p.m ET.