WIMBLEDON, England — Wimbledon’s main draw featured 11 American men; four days later, none remain in the tournament. Novak Djokovic’s comfortable Centre Court win over 156th-ranked qualifier Bobby Reynolds on Thursday signaled a new era: For the first time since 1912, no American men have advanced to Wimbledon’s third round.
Not coincidentally, this is the first Wimbledon since 2000 without America’s longtime No. 1, Andy Roddick. The Wimbledon stalwart advanced to the third round or beyond in 11 of the 12 years in which he played in the grass event, which has typically rewarded the big-serving and aggressive hitting that often defines the American game.
While this unarguably speaks to the current state of the American men’s game, circumstance also played a part in the disappointing showing. The U.S.’ No. 1, Sam Querrey, earned a tough draw, landing 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Bernard Tomic in the first round. Querrey mounted a comeback to force a fifth set after falling down two sets to love in that match, but Tomic held on to win 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3. Querrey was put off by the 10-minute medical timeout his young Aussie opponent took in the fourth set.
“I definitely feel like I could have made the second week,” Querrey said after the loss. “I felt in control when I was up 4-1 in the fourth set with two breaks but then he got a headache, and I guess you can just take a 10 minute break. So that’s kind of annoying. … If you’re dizzy or you’re hurt you’ve gotta play through it, you can’t just take breaks. That’s not why I lost, but I felt like I had the momentum and then it kind of went to a level playing field in the fifth. I’ll remember that one next time I have a headache.”
Meanwhile John Isner, America’s best hope for a deep Wimbledon run, succumbed to a freak injury just a few points into his second-round match against Adrian Mannarino, who shouldn’t have challenged Isner on grass. While Isner had never made it past Wimbledon’s second round, he looked like a legitimate threat to reach the quarterfinals after his draw opened with early upsets of Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka. Mardy Fish and Brian Baker, both of whom advanced to the second week last year, were plagued by injuries and forced to skip the tournament.
Regardless of the specific circumstances surrounding this year’s Wimbledon collapse, however, the larger issue remains: After those big names, there’s a substantial dip in the current crop of American men. The next highest-ranked American after Fish is No. 86 Rajeev Ram, a 29-year-old journeyman who reached a career-high ranking of No. 78 in 2009. Behind Ram is the aging James Blake, who lost in the second round to Tomic, and 35-year-old Michael Russell, who lost in the first round to Grega Zemlja. Ryan Harrison, Denis Kudla and Steve Johnson, all younger Americans who have shown promise, round out the country’s remaining Top 100, and while they all showed flashes of promise, they also all lost early.
“There’s a lot of guys right around 100 [in the rankings],” Reynolds said after his loss. “Obviously, not as many top guys as in years past. A lot of young guys coming up through the college ranks or that have gone pro with skipping college. … But I think they have a lot of potential. … They’re knocking on the doorstep of Top 100.”
That may be so, but cracking the Top 100 isn’t usually a milestone about which American players brag.
While the men continue to flounder, the women’s side seems secure with a reliable star in Serena Williams and a cadre of younger players making noise in her wake. Sloane Stephens, 20, and Madison Keys, 18, are proving their worth on a regular basis and have joined Serena in Wimbledon’s third round. Jamie Hampton, 22, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 28, have also enjoyed recent success, though both lost in the first round this week.
The men’s side hasn’t been able to match that range of success. Young prodigies like Jack Sock, 20, and Ryan Harrison, 21, have a long way to go before fully establishing themselves on tour. (Sock lost in qualifying.) The physicality of the game makes it difficult for the younger men to break through, so they’re left toiling away and paying their dues in the lower circuits or in qualifying to earn rankings points and assume Slam position. Add in the globalization of tennis, which means more talented players entering the circuit from all over the world, and the future looks increasingly tough for the American men.
“It’s a worldwide sport now,” Reynolds said. “I think most sports you look back, you know, years ago, the Americans usually were very good, whether it’s basketball or, you know, baseball or tennis. Sports are becoming such a worldwide thing that, you know, everybody is so good now. I think that’s what we’re so used to looking back and saying, ‘Oh, look at all the dominance.’ But how many were actually playing worldwide as opposed to now? Every country has top guys playing tennis. I think that’s more of what it is rather than the lack of talent coming out of the States.”