Reason behind decline of U.S. men
NEW YORK -- There was a time (not so long ago) when America was the worldwide leader in terms of global influence.
Walls came down, Cold War empires thawed, and our rhetoric and sanctions against what we viewed as tyrannical governments were generally effective. Today, of course, the United States' foreign policy isn't what it used to be.
The same is true of tennis, particularly on the men's side.
There are currently six American men ranked among the ATP World Tour's top 100 players. Forty years ago, you could find five to seven times that number. But like the waning dominance of colonial powers of Great Britain and Australia, the grip has loosened; tennis has become a more egalitarian sport.
Spain has the most men in the top 100, with 12, followed by France (10) and Germany and Argentina (seven).
Thirty-five years ago, seven of the ATP's top 10 spots were occupied by Americans. Twenty years ago, there were four American men in the top 10: Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang and Todd Martin. Currently, there are none. After the 2012 season, for the first time since the present rankings system was installed in 1973, there was no American male in the top 10.
"I think it's more just a matter of the globalization of the sport and also the typical cycles of success within the sport," said Martin, who steps into the role of CEO at the International Tennis Hall of Fame next Friday. "It's such a big issue for our country. We do not have enough kids taking up the sport. The international game is more popular than it is here.
"As long as the best athletes are going to football, basketball, soccer and lacrosse, we're going to continue to struggle."
Which sport, Martin asked, wouldn't Novak Djokovic be able to play professionally? Great point.
Back in the days of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, major championships were plentiful. But since Andy Roddick won the US Open here 11 years ago, American men are 0-for-43. And counting. In that time, Serena and Venus have won 13 between them.
Here's where the American men are after nearly two days of play:
• Sitting with a collective record of 3-7 on Tuesday evening with two matches yet to play.
The good news? Sam Querrey (No. 57) is through to the second round -- and so is our top dog (Georgia Bulldog), No. 15 John Isner, although he was playing fellow American Marcos Giron, so one of them was going to win. Still, that's business as usual; Isner and Querrey have been America's go-to men for several years, but Isner's best effort here is the quarterfinals three years ago and Querrey has made two fourth rounds.
The bad? The USTA is demolishing Louis Armstrong as part of an ambitious renovation project -- Querrey's favorite court in the world.
"Oh, well, what are you going to do?" Querrey said, after a listing the reasons he loves the court. "I'll find another favorite court."
And then he laughed. Later, he added, "When Louie's done, I'm done."
That Querrey struggled against the marvelously named Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina, who is 2-6 at the US Open, underlines the situation. On his favorite court, at the major in which he's achieved his best results by far, Querrey got taken the distance in a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 match that clocked seven minutes shy of three hours. For the record, the big-hitting Querrey had 30 aces -- 28 more than Gonzalez.
Although he says he doesn't dwell on the state of American men's tennis, Querrey is asked about it in almost every interview. Tuesday he was asked how important it was for him and his fellow Americans to make a statement at this event.
"It is important," Querrey said. "It's the last Grand Slam of the year, only one in our country. It's the one I think all of us would like to win more than the others. If you're going to peak at any time during the year, this is the time we want to.
"It would be great if not only one of us could make a run, but a couple of us or three or four of us could be in the round of 16, quarterfinals and really boost American men's tennis."
Isner, meanwhile, was tested by current NCAA singles champion Marcos Giron, winning in a tight match, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (2). Isner, who hit 26 aces and did not face a break point, was the NCAA runner-up in 2007.
Giron, 21, was playing his very first Grand Slam main-draw match.
"I guess not off to a great start," Isner said of the American experience here. "I mean, I think Sam is very good. He's way better than his ranking, that's for sure."
So, what's wrong with men's tennis?
"I don't know what's missing," Isner said. "I don't focus on that. I just focus on myself. It's not my concern."
What advice would Querrey give him?
"I think he has a good game to move up the ranks," Querrey said. "I think he just needs to buckle down, work hard. I think he should play a lot of challengers when he can in the beginning, and hopefully do well on those. My advice to guys is to try to put your head down and battle through Futures and Challengers as quick as you can."
And then, the world awaits. Lately, the world has been winning.