By: Colin Shamley
Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Michael Chang. These greats have a combined 27 grand slam titles. Unfortunately these greats are long gone from pro tennis, as is the overall prominence of Americans in the sport.
The last American male to win a grand slam was Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open. So what caused Americans to fall off from their former place of glory?
One reason: The dominance of the “big 4”. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray have won 25 of the last 27 majors, dating back to 2008. Federer is the most successful player of all time, while Nadal has a record of nine French Open titles.
Djokovic is currently the top ranked player in the word and Murray is the first Englishman to win Wimbledon in over 70 years. What separates these all-time greats from other top players is their consistency and ability to raise their level of play depending on their opponent.
What prevents today’s Americans from winning Grand Slams? Coaches tend to focus on developing players’ serve and forehand as the primary weapons. These shots are very important but service returns and movement are often undervalued.
If the serve is the most important shot in tennis, the return is easily second. Most Americans just don’t have the ability to break their opponent’s serve nor have fitness that many European players possess. Americans are not built for seven rounds of best-of-five set matches that each grand slam entails.
John Isner is currently the top ranked American male. Sadly, he often struggles to make it past the third round of majors. The former Georgia Bulldog wins more service games than anyone on tour, as far as percentage.
His problem: movement and service returns. Isner has one of the best serves in the game but his returner’s serve and court coverage although improved, are nowhere near elite. John constantly has to rely on his serve and hope he doesn’t get broken.
Jack Sock provides a small beacon of hope for the US. The 21 year old shocked the world when he won this year’s Wimbledon with Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The pair defeated Bob and Mike Bryan, the most successful doubles team of all time, in the finals.
The Bryan brothers just happen to be from the US, which shows that American tennis is strong on the doubles side.
On another positive note, two American males reached this year’s Junior Wimbledon finals. Hopefully their success translates into winning at the pro level.
Now, we are left with one simple question. Who will carry the torch to lead American tennis back to its former glory?