Thursday, August 22, 2013

State of American tennis

We are nearing the tenth anniversary of the last time an American tennis player won the US Open, when Andy Roddick did it in 2003, which is by far the longest drought in the Open Era. On top of that, until just last week, there wasn't a single US representative in the top 20 of the world for the first time in the Open Era.

When American tennis fans hear about these numbers, it is easy to go into panic mode. Tennis fans are looking for someone or something to blame. They want to find a reason why the ATP isn't dominated by Americans right now. The main scapegoat has been the US player development, which couldn't be more unfair.

In fact, I believe that the US has the best player development in the world. Player development is often judged on how many grand slam champions or top ten players it produces. So few players in the history of tennis ever win a grand slam event or even reach the top ten in the world. It isn't the job of player development to simply create a champion. It is their job to put a player in a position to break through and become one of the top tennis players in the world, and that is exactly what the US has done.

In the top 100 of the Year-to-Date Challenger Rankings, no country has more representation than the US, which has 12 players. These are the guys who are set to make a breakthrough into the ATP World Tour. There are 16 player from the US ranked between 86 and 185, which are roughly the top 100 players that can't directly get into any world tour tournament that they want.

The US player development has plenty of players primed to make a breakthrough any year, so there is no question that they are doing their job, and they are probably doing it better than any other country.

When you look at why there are only two players that are truly a part of the world tour, you have to take a more case-by-case approach. There is no blanket answer that explains why each of the men in position to breakthrough haven't yet. Each player has their own story and own reasons.

For players like Rajeev Ram, Michael Russell, and James Blake, they are well past their primes and are just living off of wild cards and challenger tournaments to keep their careers alive a little longer. For Brian Baker and Mardy Fish, injury has been a major stumbling block. Steve Johnson and Bradley Klahn each prioritized their college early in their careers. Players like Tim Smyczek, Alex Kuznetsov, and Bobby Reynolds did good just to make it to the top of the challenger level and were never real threats to play for titles on the world tour.

Then there are the remaining guys that are still young and still have a chance. Some of them have taken one giant step forward as teenagers and have since taken several steps back such as Ryan Harrison, Donald Young, and Ryan Sweeting. The rest still have a chance to be the next US representative in the top ten. These are guys like Jack Sock, Rhyne Williams, Denis Kudla, or even someone like Dennis Novikov. None of those guys are super young, but there aren't a lot of other players their age from other countries that are breaking through.

This has been an era that has been tough for players to breakthrough in before they turn 25. There may not be a lot of good results for the young Americans to get excited about, but their chance is coming soon. 2013 may be the worst year in US tennis history, but it does not indicate a downward trend. The US is still in position to get back to being the best tennis country in the world at any time.

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