On Sunday, Andy Roddick defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero in the U.S. Open final for his first Grand Slam championship. In the aftermath of the victory, Roddick cried and hugged girlfriend Mandy Moore as commentators lauded the 21-year-old as the future of men’s tennis in America. Lost in Roddick’s brilliant play throughout the two rainy weeks at Flushing Meadow was the fact that while Roddick’s future might be bright, the outlook for American men’s tennis is bleak.
During the 1990s, American men dominated the world tennis stage. In the decade, the men collected an astounding 21 of the 40 Grand Slam titles and were runners up 15 times. Despite Roddick’s triumph, it is apparent that Americans will not approach this level of success anytime soon.
First of all, although Roddick did play very well, he was also the beneficiary of a great deal of luck en route to his title. Because Roddick was able to finish his 4th round match against Xavier Malisse last Wednesday, he was well rested coming into the weekend matches. Consider that Roddick’s semifinal opponent, David Nalbandian, had to play on consecutive days before the two met on Saturday. Nalbandian still won the first two sets and had a match point against Roddick in a third-set tiebreaker. Roddick did raise the level of his game to rally, but he was certainly aided by both Nalbandian’s fatigue and by Nalbandian’s injured wrist.
Even in the finals, Roddick’s opponent was at a disadvantage. Ferrero was playing for the fourth consecutive day, and his performance was definitely lackluster by his own standards. In all fairness, Roddick played great tennis, but he is not the best player in the world right now.
Roddick’s game just doesn’t seem that complete. As one of my friends pointed out, Roddick is an advanced version of that really cocky and goony kid on your high school tennis team. He has a huge forward and serve, but he runs around his backhand all the time and isn’t too handy at the net.
And that’s about it for American tennis players. Andre Agassi is 33 and could very well win another major or two, or he could retire tomorrow. There is a limited future there. What other American can rise to the top of the game? James Blake? Mardy Fish? Taylor Dent? Not likely.
It is becoming more and more apparent that America is quickly slipping down the tennis ladder. Spain and, more recently, Argentina have emerged as tennis hotbeds.
The Spaniards have always had success on clay courts, but the new talent appears to be more versatile. No. 6 Carlos Moya, No. 21 Felix Mantilla and No. 23 Albert Costa are still near the top of the game, while No. 18 Tommy Robredo and No. 29 Feliciano Lopez have joined the old guard in the top 30.
Of course, the new world No. 1 is Juan Carlos Ferrero. Despite the loss to Roddick, Ferrero has had a phenomenal year, consistently performing well in all the Grand Slams including a win at Roland Garros.
The Argentine rise to power has come rather recently. The highest ranked player from Argentina is Guillermo Coria at No. 5. Coria beat Andre Agassi in the French Open Quarterfinal and was still able to challenge him again at the U.S. Open, even with injuries to his hamstring and right thumb. In addition to being a semifinalist at this year’s Open, No. 9 Nalbandian was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2002. Toss in No. 17 Augustin Calleri, No. 25 Mariano Zabaleta and No. 32 Gaston Gaudio, and Argentina could very well be the world’s top tennis country.
Roddick’s moment of glory was touching and well-deserved. However, Americans shouldn’t expect to bring home too many more Grand Slam trophies in the near future. At least not in men’s tennis.