Tennis: Decade after Roddick, US men stuck in Slam drought

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John Isner, from the United States, returns a shot from Juan Martin Del Potro, from Argentina, during a semi-final match at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, in Mason, Ohio. AP

NEW YORK CITY – American men’s tennis, once the envy of the world with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi atop a generation of stars, has not produced a Grand Slam singles champion in 10 years.

Serena Williams is the women’s world number one while Mike and Bob Bryan top the doubles rankings and own all four Slam titles plus Olympic gold, but not since now-retired Andy Roddick won the 2003 US Open has a US man won a Slam singles crown.

The top American men’s hope when the US Open begins Monday will be 14th-ranked John Isner, a big-serving 2.08m standout who has been ranked as high as ninth and who won last month in Atlanta and reached finals earlier this month at Cincinnati and Washington.

“I don’t feel an extra amount of pressure,” Isner said of his status as the US number one. “American fans need to temper their expectations given how deep the game is today. Given how long it takes players to develop these days, you have got to give us a little time.”

It’s a hefty legacy to uphold. Sampras won 14 Slam singles titles. Agassi captured eight. Jim Courier took four and Michael Chang won the 1989 French Open and reached three other Slam finals. And Todd Martin reached two Grand Slam finals.

“I don’t see us dominating again soon,” said American James Blake, a former world number four now ranked 100th in the world.

“The generation of Sampras, Agassi, Courier, Chang and Martin – I don’t think anyone will see that. I think American fans got spoiled with that.”

At Wimbledon, no US man reached the third round, the worst American showing there since 1912. And on August 12, there was no US man in the world top 20 for the first time since the ranking system began in 1976.

“Just one week. I mean, it happens. I don’t think it’s a big deal,” said Sam Querrey, the US number two at 29th in the rankings.

“We just didn’t do well enough to get as many points to get up there. I don’t really have a good reason.”

American Ryan Harrison, ranked 97th in the world, uses such numbers as inspiration to work harder.

“It’s something that can fire you up,” he said.

Roddick retired after a fourth-round loss at last year’s US Open. He reached four Slam finals after his 2003 US Open win, losing each to Federer.

“We miss Andy for sure,” said Mardy Fish, who reached ninth in the world but has battled heart issues the last two years. “There’s no doubt some guys need to step up.”

The past decade of men’s tennis has been dominated by Roger Federer, whose first Slam title came at Wimbledon in 2003, plus 12-time Slam winner Rafael Nadal, six-time Slam winner Novak Djokovic and reigning US Open and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.

“It has been a while since anyone has won a Slam outside of the ‘Big Four.’ We’re in a time where a few guys are dominant,” Blake said.

“I feel like American tennis is doing fine. John won another tournament, Sam was in the top 20 and we have the best doubles team in the world.”

The Bryans, 15-time Slam winners in doubles, are trying to become the first doubles team to complete a calendar year Slam sweep since Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman in 1951, the only men’s duo to achieve the feat.

“They are the greatest team of all time,” said Serbian doubles standout Nenad Zimonjic. “If they do it, it will be an unbelievable achievement.”

But it won’t be a singles Slam crown.

Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, whose 2009 US Open title was the only Slam crown since the 2005 Australian Open not claimed by the current “Big Four,” sees hope for the future.

“Isner won in Atlanta and nobody wants to play against him,” Del Potro said. “Maybe in the future, with the young players, (Americans) can have another Grand Slam champion.”

He could be 15-year-old Macedonian-born American Stefan Kozlov, who made his ATP debut last month at Newport.

“He’s going to be really good,” Harrison said. “I’m 100 percent sure he’s going to make some impressions on the tour. I don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen, but he can play.”

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