Yes, you’ve heard this a thousand times. Yes, its redundant. But yes, it needs to be talked about. For many years now, American Tennis has been in the gutter. Every year people talk about new hopes, young kids who are going to make a breakthrough. The truth is, people are saying those things out of want, not out of belief. The problem with American tennis runs deep.
Lets go back to the golden age of American Tennis. With players like Mcenroe, Connors, Sampras, Aggasi, and Courier, Americans were spoiled with success. Things were good, and we took it for granted.
Now lets look at the players of today, and we’ll even include Andy Roddick in this mix. Isner, Querrey, Harrison, Russel, Sock, Kudla, Johnson, Williams. Now how many of those guys first names do you know? Exactly.
Lets start with John Isner. The 6’10 monster has one of the top 3 biggest serves in the history of the sport. The trajectory of the serve combined with the raw power is nearly unreturnable. He should never get broken. Ever. And he usually doesn’t. It’s after the first ball that things go wrong. His forehand can actually be huge weapon, but he hardly uses it. After his huge serve, he’s basically a pusher. On his return games, he stands yards behind the baseline and plays defense. It is beyond frustrating to watch. Yesterday against Harrison, Isner was pushing and moonballing on break points. It was pathetic. And then after the match he said,”I played well.”
Next is Sam Querrey. He also has the huge serve, he’s a mere 6’6. I think he’s a way better player than Isner, but even he lacks key traits. He’s got the big forehand, and he uses it. It’s a very reliable shot, and he hits a lot of winners off that side. The problem is the backhand. It’s bad. He smothers it all the time, and especially when he’s under pressure. He played well against Simon yesterday, but let a break lead in the fourth set slip, and eventually lost in 5.
The future? A few names come up. Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, even the infamous Donald Young comes to mind. Each of these players have their own problem. Harrison made it up into the top 50 last year, and things looked like they were coming together. But after a couple bad losses his season took a turn for the worse. He’s got the great serve, but after that he lacks the skills. His forehand can be good sometimes, but often he rolls it too much and the ball lands short. His backhand is kind of a mess, and combine that his short temper, and you realize he doesn’t quite have what it takes.
Jack Sock has some promise. He follows the American mold of having a big serve, and he actually has a great forehand. But for as good as his forehand is, his backhand is equally as bad. He made it to the second round of the French, but thats his first tour level win outside of the US. Europe scares the Americans, and thats why they have little success over there. His progress will be interesting to follow.
So how do we fix this problem? It starts from the ground up. First off, players have to be flexible as kids. They have to practice on clay. Everybody else in the world does. Most importantly, coaches, and namely the USTA has to start developing more complete players. The big serve, big forehand can only get you so far. We have kids who have talent, and we have to use that talent. My pick for the next American number 1…Stefan Kozlov. Look him up.