There aren't many sports Americans suck at. Traditionally, we suck at the sports Europeans perfected like soccer, rugby and snooker. There used to be one exception to that rule: tennis.
Americans used to dominate professional tennis. Note the “used to” part. I grew up during the Sampras/Agassi era, hating that long-haired rebel and rooting for good ol' Pistol Pete. The rivalry between the two Americans was the talk of the tennis world for years. Pete even retired after defeating Agassi in the 2002 U.S. Open final. Way to go out on a high note!
The women's side wasn't any different. There were tons of big names winning consistently: Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati followed by the Williams sisters, more recently.
But the current state of American tennis is a far cry from those glory days. It looked promising in the early 2000s as Sampras was retiring and Agassi was staging a comeback. There was a young gun by the name of Andy Roddick rising up the tennis ranks, as well.
He was the future of American tennis. He had some friends that were supposed to be good, as well. Names like James Blake, Robby Ginepri and Mardy Fish were often thrown into the mix of potential American stars.
Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open and things were looking up. He was ranked number 1 in the world, and he was still young with a long career ahead of him. But that was as high as he'd go. He returned to defend his title in 2004 and lost in straight sets in the first round. That should've been our first omen.
Instead, he showed that the inconsistent Roddick was the trend, not the winner we saw in 2003. At the time he was the only U.S. player that was "winning" (a.k.a. getting deep into grand slams) so he rose to fame as a quasi-celebrity. Of course, that just fed the ego which derailed his career. Now at 29, he's still our only hope at another men’s grand slam title. This week, he finds himself seeded 30 at Wimbledon, a tournament where he’s fared well in the past, reaching the finals three times, most recently in 2009.
On the ladies' side, the Williams sisters became the dominant duo, regularly winning major tournaments, and, on a few occasions, facing each other in grand slam finals. They were exemplary players with unmatched skills. No one could come close to touching them in terms of talent.
But things have started to change in recent years. A few injuries, a serious illness and fashion lines got in the way of tennis. Serena was ousted in the first round of the French Open this year with Venus making an early exit at Wimbledon yesterday.
And if recent events are any indication, Americans shouldn’t be pinning any hopes on Olympic gold this summer. Roddick, Venus and Serena are all representing the US in London this summer, along with a host of up-and-coming players such as John Isner and Donald Young for the men and some girls I’ve never heard of for the women. Our best hope for the gold is in doubles with Bob and Mike Bryan (or the Bryan Brothers, as they’re affectionately known) at the helm. They’re currently the only bright spot in American tennis.
So that just leaves us Americans wondering, “Who’s next?” Who’s going to be our next star or are the glory days of American tennis officially over? Where has all the talent gone? Kids are playing a hundred different sports these days and tennis is obviously not one of them. The American talent pool is running dry and that thought worries me. As a tennis fan, I can only hope that somewhere out there some little kid is picking up his or her first tennis racquet and crushing 130 mph serves in a few years because American tennis needs that spark - the sooner the better!