American men to fall out of top 20 for first time in 40 years

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John Isner

John Isner will fall out of the top 20 after his first-round loss at the Rogers Cup. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

No American men will be in the top 20 of next week’s ATP rankings, the first time that has happened since the computer rankings started 40 years ago.

The dubious record was clinched on Tuesday when John Isner lost to Canadian wild card Vasek Pospisil 5-7, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) in the first round of the Rogers Cup in Montreal. The 20th-ranked Isner, who won the Atlanta Open two weeks ago and reached the Citi Open final last week, will be no higher than No. 22 in next Monday’s rankings after failing to defend his semifinal points from last year’s tournament.

Sam Querrey is the second-ranked American, at No. 26; he withdrew from the Rogers Cup for personal reasons. Next comes No. 76 Mardy Fish, 31, who was in the top 10 a year ago but has played only three ATP-level tournaments this year in his return from a heart condition.

It wasn’t that long ago that fans and commentators were stressed about the prospect of having no American men in the top 10, let alone the top 20. The United States placed at least one player in the top 10 from the inception of the rankings system, in August 1973, until August 2010. But Andy Roddick’s decline and subsequent retirement after about a decade of leading the American men, Fish’s injury-related absences, the plateauing of Isner and Querrey and the inability of younger prospects to break through yet have hurt the U.S. cause. This year, for the first time since 1912, no U.S. men advanced to the third round of Wimbledon.

“It’s a worldwide sport now,” 31-year-old American Bobby Reynolds, who is ranked No. 131, said at Wimbledon. “I think most sports you look back, years ago, the Americans usually were very good, whether it’s basketball or baseball or tennis. Sports are becoming such a worldwide thing that 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 Aug 07, 2013

    What Americans have to learn is:

    1- To stop listening to incompetent "gurus", who led American tennis to the present debacle.

    2 - Running around the baseline is O.K. at times, getting inside the baseline at every darn opportunity is a must.

    3- Versatile one handed backhands are key, because besides giving the player extreme variation, are tied to top class volleying.

    4- Serve well, mixed with an healthy dose of serve and volley at the right moments is crucial to keep opponents guessing at every return.

    5- A rock solid defense based on excellent returns to begin and outstanding running must be there.

    6 - Coaching, financial, medical, physio support can not miss.

    And much more....

    Do American coaches know this? Of course they do! So what is missing? Go ask Djokovic, he just wrote a book "Serve to Win"!... and his "performance-focused" gluten-free diet! 

    Questions anyone?


    The rest of the world caught up. This has happened to other countries. Australia dominated the tennis scene in the 50s, 60, and 70s, and can barely put two guys in the top 100. Sweden - with such rich legacies from Borg, Wilander, and Edberg - currently has a single player ranked in the ATP ... top 500 (at #487!). During the 80s, the US had a blueprint for success (academy tennis, i.e. Bollettieri) and a powerful, aggressive style (big serve, big forehand). Now, regardless of country origin, a huge percentage of players in the top 50 have the physical tools that differentiated the US players.

    Also, there's a lack of development and transition from top-level junior to the ATP. I understand this move is difficult for many players and junior success does not guarantee future success ... but too many American players have stalled. Isner is dangerous but limited - and at 28, the guy's about a year-and-half away from the age at which Roddick retired. Also, tall, lanky dudes with big serves have poor longevity track records. It looks like Sam Querrey's already peaked. Donald Young was world junior #1 and flirted with the top 40 (very briefly) ... and then in what should have been his breakthrough year, proceeded to lose 17 consecutive tour matches. Ryan Harrison has shown promise but his 13 major appearances are littered with 1st and 2nd round results - the guy is on the fence between potential top 25 and becoming a challenger mainstay. Jack Sock could very well be the next "great" American player but like Harrison, must show improvement. Devin Britton ... good results on the junior circuit but at age 22 has yet to win an ATP-level match.

    The US has a mountain to climb to get back to relevance on the men's side.


    As a parent of very young junior players, I think part of the problem, a big part in my opinion, is the short-sighted one-dimensional way tennis is being taught to American children.  There is, for example, a slavish devotion to the two-handed backhand.  I understand it is easier for young children and I am not a purist who dislikes the two-hander, it can be a devastatingly effective stroke.  My issue is that coaches actively discourage experimentation even when kids show interest or an aptitude for hitting one-handed.  I've been amazed by the chorus of "don't hit one-handed" I've heard whenever my son has experimented during clinics.  Isn't that what clinics are for?  To experiment with new techniques?  Who cares if you miss a ball into the net?  Or ten balls or twenty balls?  Who cares?  Why has no one (except me) said, hey, kid, so you like the one-hander, huh?  Cool.  Stick with it, you'll get there.  Instead he hears: Two hands!!  Two hands!!

    He has persisted, because he says one-handed feels more natural to him, and is well on his way to having an excellent one-handed stroke.  But he is one of only two children I've seen in local clinics attempting to develop this backhand.  It is so widely discouraged.  Which takes me back to my broader point.  Every talented American junior you see these days has essentially the same game.  There is no individuality.  No creativity.  We are the country of the scrappy two-hander who hugs the baseline (See Steve Johnson).  It's interesting that Bobby Reynolds is quoted in the article because his game is the paradigm.  Sadly, it is a failed paradigm.  The Bobby Reynolds' game, not to be confused with the baseline assassin that was Agassi, will never be competitive at the highest levels of the sport.  The American greats of the past all had very distinctive games that reflected and, in some ways, amplified their personalities.  Now the personality is a prisoner to the paradigm.