If you were to ask the casual tennis fan to name as many American male tennis players off of the top of their head as possible, most would easily name Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick, and John Isner. After these three, a blank would be drawn. The lack of resurgence from American male players since the end of the Sampras-Agassi era has been disappointing in the eyes of many fans to say the least. The only two American players to have reached a Grand Slam semifinal since 2003 are Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. In the defense of American players, the male game has become very top heavy in recent years with Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic becoming fixtures in the final four of majors.
The letdown of American male tennis players in the last 5-7 years is often viewed the wrong way. Many have been led to believe that there simply has been a lag in American talent. This statement is easily falsifiable. Currently, there are 10 Americans in the top 100 in the world. This is the most of any country apart from Spain, which has 13 men ranked in the top 100.
Now this begs question of has there actually been a letdown of talent or a failure of high expectations? I think undoubtedly the latter is the answer. Following the legacies of greats such as Agassi, Sampras, and Courier is no short task. It would be unreasonable to expect any group of any players from any country during any time period to achieve on the same level as these Americans did during the 80s’ and 90s.
If you go back in history, the only county since the beginning of the open era (1968) to achieve something comparable to what the Americans of the 1990’s achieved were Swedes in the 70s and 80s. Wilander, Borg, and Edberg combined for 24 grand slams over an 18 year period. The combination of Agassi, Sampras, Courier, collected 27 grandslams in 13 years.
A prime example of a player that has “failed” in the eyes of many Americans is Donald Young. When Donald Young was 15 people were sighting him as the next big star and a shoe in as a future number one based on his success at Junior National Championships in Kalamazoo which he was winning. Currently ranked 89th in the world, Young is 22 and already considered a bust. It is extremely premature to declare the career of a 22 year old a disappointment. Recently, many players have enjoyed their greatest successes near the end of their careers. Two examples of this are Mardy Fish, who has surged to a career high ranking of number 7 at age 29 and Jurgen Melzer, a journeymen Austrian who made his deepest career run in every single major coincidentally at the age of 29.
With players on the rise such as Mardy Fish, Ryan Harrison, Sam Querrey, Donald Young, John Isner, Alex Bogomolov Jr. , and Ryan Sweeting the future of American tennis appears to be very promising. And while this group of players will unlikely achieve the greatness of those in the 1990s, it would be wise to hold off on the bust word for a while.