Wimbledon: American men nowhere in sight
WIMBLEDON, England ó Rafael Nadal has helped his nation cure its longtime aversion to lawn tennis, and he’ll be one of three Spanish men playing Monday in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Switzerland, France, Russia and Croatia have two players apiece among the final 16. Britain, which last won the men’s singles title in 1936, advanced one man to the second week, as did Australia, Germany, Serbia and even the island of Cyprus.
And the United States? None.
The nation that produced Andre Agassi, Don Budge, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Bill Tilden finds itself in a collective slump. And there’s no sign of a turnaround.
“We’ve been struggling for a long time, and it has just gotten worse,” said Gene Mayer, a former top-five player who coaches privately in New York. “We just are producing no players.”
For the first time since 1926, only one U.S. male ó No. 102-ranked Bobby Reynolds ó reached the third round at Wimbledon. He lost Friday.
The problem isn’t grass. At last year’s French Open, American men went 0-9, their worst showing on the Roland Garros clay in at least 40 years. The last U.S. male to win a major title was Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open in 2003.
The drought is less noticeable on the women’s side only because of the Williams sisters, who have combined for 14 major titles. They and Bethanie Mattek were the lone Americans to survive the first week at Wimbledon.
American men went 5-12. Eight lost in the first round, including Olympians Sam Querrey and Robby Ginepri. Andy Roddick and James Blake lost in the second round.
Poor Reynolds, delighted to equal his best Grand Slam result at age 25, was left to explain why U.S. fortunes continue to decline.
“Around the world tennis is a huge sport, and maybe it’s not No. 1 over in the States,” he said. “In the States you have basketball, baseball, football, golf. You have so many avenues that people can try out. I think that might have something to do with it.”
But tennis has always been well down the list of the most popular sports in the United States. What has changed is the way kids learn the game, with the most precocious youngsters often being steered at an early age toward a tennis academy.
Mayer said the grass-roots tutoring of earlier eras produced better results.
“It was quality coaches working in intimate settings with players,” he said. “Now everyone goes to academies so young, and you never learn to play tennis. You don’t learn at age 7, 8, 9, 10 in a group setting with 200 kids. You learn it one-on-one with a coach.”
While development lags in the United States, waves of talented youngsters keep surfacing in Europe, Asia and South America. Ricardo Acuna, a national coach for the U.S. Tennis Association, said Americans are winning less because the game has gone more global.
“More than it’s a drought, it’s that the world got better,” said Acuna, a Chilean who ranked in the top 50 in the mid-1980s.