Over the past few years, the perception is the United States has reached a low point in men’s tennis because its players no longer win, or are even competitive, at the Australian Open, French Open, U.S. Open, or Wimbledon (grand slam) championships, and are not relevant at the top of the rankings.
The last U.S. player to hold the end-of-year number one ranking was Andy Roddick in 2003. Prior to that, James Courier held that ranking in 1992, and John McEnroe held that ranking in 1984.
As of 25 July 2012, the U.S. has only three players ranked in the top 25; John Isner (11), Mardy Fish (13), and Andy Roddick (22). Spain has the most players in the top 25 with a total of five and France is next with a total of four.
The end-of-year rankings for the past 9 years show: 2011 – three U.S. players ranked in the top 25;
2010 – four U.S. players ranked in the top 25; 2009 – two U.S. players ranked in the top 25; 2008 – three U.S. players ranked in the top 25; 2007 – two U.S. players ranked in the top 25; 2006 – two U.S. players ranked in the top 25; 2005 – four U.S. players ranked in the top 25; 2004 – three U.S. players ranked in the top 25; 2003 – three U.S. players ranked in the top 25; 2002 – three U.S. players ranked in the top 25. Spain has been the consistent leader in the number of top 25 ranked players over that same period.
Jimmy Connors was a winner of four grand slam single titles and was ranked as the year-end number one on five different times in the 1970s. John McEnroe was a winner of eight grand slam singles titles and was ranked as the year-end number one on four different times in the 1980s. Jim Courier was a winner of four grand slam singles titles in the 1990s and was ranked as the year-end number one in 1992. Andre Agassi was the last U.S. male to win the French Open in 1999 and the Australian Open in 2003. He was a winner of eight grand slam singles titles and was ranked as the year-end number one in 1999. Pete Sampras was the last U.S. male to win Wimbledon in 2000. He was a winner of 14 grand slam singles titles and was ranked as the year-end number for six consecutive years in the 1990s.
Since 2000, U.S. players have won only four of the 48 grand slam tournaments. In the decade of the 1990s, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Jim Courier combined to win 21 of 40 grand slams. At the 2007 French Open no U.S. player advanced past the opening round. The most recent U.S. male to win one of the grand slam tournaments was Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open in 2003.
Perhaps the U.S. became complacent with the success of Connors, McEnroe, Courier, Agassi, and Sampras. In addressing the apparent decline in U.S. men’s tennis, Andy Roddick has said, “As far as harping on American tennis, I think we’re kind of a victim of our own success over the years in the past.”
The current lack of elite men’s tennis players in the U.S. may be rooted in the belief that what worked in the 1980s and 1990s will work today. Too many teaching and coaching principals in the U.S. are based on a one size fits all command and control approach. The implication is U.S. tennis needs to teach and coach players on an individual basis as opposed to the one strategy, hard hitting, rigid, mechanical approach that is so prevalent at tennis academies throughout the U.S. and taught by individual coaches.
The cost to get great coaching and participate in tennis in the U.S. is considerably more expensive than other sports. With the presence of American football, basketball, baseball and even extreme sports, many of the best athletes are opting to participate in those sports. Cost and other sports have reduced the participation in tennis at a young age.
Agassi has said, “I think it’s discouraging to a lot of kids and a lot of parents who just either can’t afford to get private lessons, or certainly can’t get out there themselves to teach their kids.” McEnroe has said, “In other countries the sport has become more of a focal point than it was, particularly since it became an Olympic sport.”
Even with the possible reasons for the dearth of elite professional U.S. men tennis players, it simply may be countries outside of the U.S. are becoming engaged in teaching and coaching tennis at a young age with those players becoming competitive in tennis as their first sport of choice. Other countries and coaches may simply be catching up to, and in some instances passing, the U.S. in preparing talented young athletes to compete as elite professional tennis players.
As an American, it would be nice to see more U.S. players at the championship level; however, tennis is a global sport, and as a tennis fan, the state of the game could hardly be better. Watching very good to great matches involving Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Tsonga, and Ferrer, to name a few, is exciting and enjoyable tennis.