The clay season is not best time of year from the guys from the US. Nobody really grows up on the red clay as a kid, and so many of the Americans struggle with their movement. Also, US players are brought up with agressive play styles, sometimes known as first strike tennis. If you look at all the top American Men right now, (Isner, Querrey…Harrison?) they all boast big serves and big forehands. But after that they crumble. So on fast hard courts, this style of play can work well, but on the slow red clay, where you need to construct points, they can struggle. Outside of the top American guys, 5 American men are still alive in the qualifying. Denis Kudla,Steve Johnson, Rhyne Williams, Wayne Odesnik, and Jack Sock have all made their way to the final round of qualies. That’s a pretty good effort for the young guys. James Blake and Michael Russel round out the American participation for this year’s French. But what should we expect from all these guys come main draw time?
John Isner- The great mystery that is John Isner. After reaching the final of Indian Wells in 2012, reaching the top 10, and leading the USA to two impressive Davis Cup victories, the Isman’s expectations grew exponentially. Those expectation however, were not met. Down to number 21 in the rankings, Isner has had an up and down year. On the clay, he started out perfectly. He accepted a wild card into the US Mens Clay Court Championships in Houston, and ended up winning the title, the sixth of his career over a good clay-court player in Nico Almagro. Isner had so much success under former coach Craig Boynton, but surprisingly parted ways with him late last fall.
Isner has said that he enjoys playing on the clay, and it appears that the extra time he has to prepare for his shots allows him to really crack the ball. He remains the only player to ever push Rafa Nadal to 5 sets at Rolland Garros, and he has a lot of impressive wins on clay. However, the problem is consistency. He has lost in the first week of the last 4 majors, and nagging injuries seem to be problem. A good result for Isner this year would be the 3rd round or perhaps the Round of Sixteen.
Sam Querrey-With the burden of now being the highest ranked American man, Querrey has had mixed results. After winning in Los Angeles last year, Sam shot up the rankings, which included a win over world number 1 Novak Djokovic at the Paris Indoor Masters. With that in mind, you should not expect much from Querrey on Clay. He struggles to slide and is almost always off-balance. He was beaten by Edward Roger Vasselin today in Nice. That should tell you all you need to know.
Isner probably has a higher ceiling for this years French, but a good result for Sam would also be the 3rd of 4th round.
Everybody Else-Expectations should be very low for everybody else. Big game James Blake has never played well on clay, and he’s 33. Michael Russel is the definition of a journeyman. Harrison has some potential but he always seems to get poor draws at the slams. He also gets very down on himself if things aren’t going well. I really like Denis Kudla, but that doesn’t mean I expect much success. Sock, Johnson, and Williams all feature big serves, which don’t really factor in to success on clay.
The clay conundrum for the American men will most likely continue at this years French Open.