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American men fail to reach Wimbledon’s third round for first time since 1912

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Bobby Reynolds, who was beat by Novak Djokovic, was the last hope for an American man to make it to the third round at Wimbledon. (Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

Bobby Reynolds was America’s last chance to get a man into the third round. (Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

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.

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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.”

  • Published On Jun 27, 2013
  • 6 comments
    Tom14
    Tom14

    Tennis today is the second most popular sport world wide, hence the most competitive individual sport. Players are bigger, stronger and more athletic then those in the past, in the United States the size of these modern tennis players are seen as football or basketball players. The USTA needs to embrace the College system allowing players to be fully mature when they join the tour, seems to me the 18 years olds are being overpowered, tennis is very competitive maybe more kids are playing lacrosse because there is less world wide competition, university's are growing their programs allowing more kids gain scholarships. Tennis is still in the vaudeville days, taking kids away and sending them to boot camps, that is a big commitment to a career that may peak at 26.

    MichaelC
    MichaelC

    The talent just isn't there. Look at the junior ranks over the past 5 years ... aside from Harrison or Sock, there's no one else mentioning. Predecessors like Scoville Jenkins and Donald Young never panned out. There's plenty of big-name academies in the states ... but it's filled with international players. What's Harrison's upside? Top 25? A glimpse of a major's second week every blue moon? It's an unfortunate reality but it looks like the current game has completely passed over men's side of US tennis.

    Vinny Cordoba
    Vinny Cordoba

    I don't care how global the sport has become, there is no way that the U.S. should have become so irrelevant so quickly in men's tennis. Too many of the players are one-dimensional, either relying on a single big weapon to win or relying too much on the ability to hit the ball back over the net. They don't seem to know how to build points and take control of rallies. I love Isner and I wish he could catch a break in one of these majors. When he's good he's very good, one of the best in the world, but he's not very good nearly enough. And when he's bad, he doesn't look like he could beat a good club player. If his serve and forehand aren't working, forget it, he's toast. Querry doesn't have enough weapons. The others don't scare anyone. It's ridiculous.

    TheSwede
    TheSwede

    Courtney, you'll get precious little useful information about the state of tennis in the US by talking with the few players in the top 100. Most of them were extensively coddled by the USTA, while the vast number of American players slogs away without any meaningful support on the futures and challenger circuits. If you really want to understand the state of the American game and how it got to its current state, go hang out at some of those lower-level events. You'll get an earful about the sorry state of tennis development in the US.

    Tom14
    Tom14

    @MichaelC I agree. The USTA and the coaches need to adjust the age as to when kids should turn pro. Donald Young size way was a boy among men, if he had played some college tennis like James Blake he would have been more competitive. Harrison is facing the same dilemma.

    Tom14
    Tom14

    @TheSwede The USTA needs to embrace college tennis not look at as a event for future country club champions.