NEW YORK – In a historic flop for American men’s tennis, no player reached the fourth round of the US Open, or any Grand Slam this year, with the loss of last man standing Tim Smyczek on Sunday at Flushing Meadows.
Spain’s Marcel Granollers beat the 109th-ranked US wildcard 6-4, 4-6, 0-6, 6-3, 7-5 after three hours and 24 minutes to reach the last 16 and complete a humiliating and unprecedented Open-era Grand Slam wipeout for American men.
“I really wanted to win for you guys,” Smyczek told Grandstand supporters. “I just came up a little short.”
It came on the heels of no US man reaching the third round at Wimbledon for the first time since 1912 and last month, which produced the first week in rankings history without a top-20 US player.
While US boys once dreamed of being the next Jimmy Connors or Andre Agassi, American tennis has been reduced to trying to pilfer the next potential Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods from rival sports to try and reverse the fall from grace.
“We’re been trying to encourage some of the kids that were going to play basketball or American football to get out on a tennis court,” said former world number one and seven-time Grand Slam singles winner John McEnroe.
“We need truly great athletes, need to try to nab some of the kids playing some other sports.”
And with a growing challenge from Asia and Eastern Europe, there is a far tougher global landscape than decades past for who those who accept the task of trying to win the first US men’s Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick captured the 2003 US Open.
“We need better athletes and we need them to push each other,” said former US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe. “The rest of the world is playing tennis now. The reality is that it’s tougher to get there.
“Within the next few years you will see a lot more numbers coming through. Whether we can find those ones that get to the promised land, nobody has the answer to that.”
And the biggest US women’s stars of the past two decades, Serena and Venus Williams, developed outside the US junior system.
“A lot of times its greatness and great players come out of nowhere or develop on their own, but we’re certainly doing everything we can to make the overall level of play in the pipeline stronger,” Pat McEnroe said.
US 13th seed John Isner said after his third-round loss that he was off to watch a national telecast of his beloved collegiate American football squad.
While major US network television coverage beyond the Grand Slams and pre-US Open events in limited, some form of American football is shown all year long.
Toss in such popular sports as basketball, baseball and US stock car racing and add the growth of soccer and golf and US tennis is fighting for talent without Grand Slam champion role models to offer.
“In America we need to just grow the talent pool,” said retiring US veteran James Blake, ranked 100th. “We have a large pool of athletes, but a lot of them are breaking off into other sports.
They’re not focused on tennis.”
Added to that is the dwindling number of US events.
There were 26 ATP events in 1980 but there will be only 11 in 2014. Tournaments left Los Angeles, San Jose and other markets for more sponsor money in Asia and Latin America.
US tennis could find gems from other nations as well, such as 15-year-old Macedonian-born American Stefan Kozlov, who made his ATP debut in July.
US tennis also might have to look to the basketball ranks, as it did to some degree with Isner, for giants who can dominate by blasting powerful serves.
“We have two choices. We either get better athletes or we go with guys that are 7 feet and serve like 150 mph,” John McEnroe said.
“You could see a 7-footer. Some guy could come along that could make life miserable for almost any player and could do pretty much almost anything.”
Bob Harper, fitness expert and trainer on a TV reality weight-loss show, notes that new technology is more popular than many sport and lures potential sportsmen into possible obesity.
“Our children are consuming more calories with the fast food nation that is killing the American diet,” Harper said. “Kids are spending up to seven hours a day in front of some sort of computer device, playing video games, smartphones, sitting in front of their television. We have to get our kids out more.”
The US Tennis Association is backing a new initiative with child-sized courts and racquets for the 10-and-under crowd, building 5,000 kid-sized courts by 2017 and funding youth programs from about $125 million in US Open profits.