The 2014 US Open begins Monday with American men seeking to end a Grand Slam drought now more than a decade long. The signs, however, are not promising.
Andy Roddick’s 2003 US Open triumph marks the last time an American man hoisted a Grand Slam trophy.
For a nation that has produced 51 men’s major winners in the Open era – more than twice as many as any other country – it’s a baffling lack of success.
For America’s current No 1, 15th-ranked John Isner, it’s not something to dwell on as the final Grand Slam of the year approaches.
“American tennis right now isn’t the best it has been,” Isner said in July. “I’m just worried about myself right now and trying to get back into the top-10.”
Unfortunately, Isner’s build-up to the Open hasn’t gone as planned. The former world No 9 won the title in Atlanta, but won only one match match in Washington, Toronto and Cincinnati combined before heading to Winston-Salem for a last tune-up.
Even with a top-10 ranking, and with defending champion Rafael Nadal sidelined by injury, Isner would hardly be a pre-Open favourite lining up against the likes of world No 1 Novak Djokovic, 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and former Wimbledon winner Andy Murray.
While Isner lays claim to a Grand Slam historic footnote – having played the longest match in major history with his marathon first-round win over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010 – his best Grand Slam performance was a quarter-final run at the 2011 US Open.
He insists that his status as the top-ranked American doesn’t press him to try to match the feats of an earlier generation of stars – Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang.
“I don’t think it puts too much pressure on me,” he says. “I was never pegged to be the next No 1 guy.”
If he’s not, however, then who is?
That dubious honour once belonged to Donald Young, who in 2007 was the youngest player to finish the year ranked in the top-100 at 18 years and five months.
Young was ranked as high as 38th in the world in 2012, but had fallen to 202nd last year and worked his way back into the top-100 via a detour to the Challenger circuit and is now the second-ranked American at 46th in the world.
Steve Johnson has also squeezed into the top-50 as the US Open approaches, at number 49, while 21-year-old Jack Sock has progressed from 100th to start the year to his current 55th.
Sock teamed with Vasek Pospisil to win the Wimbledon men’s doubles title, but has yet to reach an ATP level final.
Assessing the bleak landscape prior to the French Open, Courier told the New York Times that lack of talent was not the problem.
“There are plenty of talented players who are not getting the most out of their talent,” the US Davis Cup captain said, declining to name names.
A lacklustre French Open showing, with no American men in the quarter-finals, was followed by a dismal Wimbledon campaign that saw ninth-seeded Isner, the last US man standing, knocked out in the third round.
A similarly uninspiring performance would be more keenly felt at Flushing Meadows, where native sons like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe once set the New York nights alight.
Even so, Isner, for one, relishes the challenge on the hardcourts of his homeland.
“This is my favourite time of year,” he says.
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