What the hell is going on over there? I know that’s not appropriate language for Wimbledon, but good grief, what a performance by our guys last week at the All England Club. They got rolled. Eleven US men turned out for the start of matches on Monday, and by Thursday evening each and every one of them had been booted straight out of London’s SW19.
By the start of Round 3, not one American male remained standing, or wobbling, so much as hanging on by a net cord or medicinal gin and tonic. That hasn’t happened in Wimbledon’s men’s singles since 1912, in the weeks soon after the sinking of the Titanic and the opening of Fenway Park.
At least there was a legitimate excuse in 1912: We didn’t have an American male entered in the draw. From a historical standpoint, last week’s wipeout was worse because we actually had men in the draw, or so we are led to believe.
The long-retired Jim Courier, a Yank who won four Grand Slam events in the early ’90s, tried to supply some context during a rain delay while courtside at Wimbledon last week.
“The game is international,’’ he told a Reuters correspondent, “it’s tough, and no one is entitled because they wear the Stars and Stripes to win a round. They have to earn it.’’
Fair enough, talent is supposed to rule the courts, which is precisely where the American men are challenged these days. Collectively, they have now gone 39 consecutive Slams without a victory, adding to an embarrassing record that has shattered the prior drought of 31 (from the US Open in 1955 to Wimbledon in 1963).
Our guys just aren’t good enough any more at serve, volley, compete. Our rich mine of Connorses, McEnroes, Couriers, Agassis, and Samprases has been stripped clean. We don’t see our guys at Breakfast at Wimbledon, because players all around the world eat them for breakfast at Wimbledon.
Consider: Headed into London, the US numbered only three men among the world’s top 50 singles, No. 19 Sam Querrey, No. 21 John Isner, and No. 43 Mardy Fish.
Querrey was chewed up in an opening-round five-set grinder by Bernard Tomic, 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3.
Isner at least dipped a toe into Round 2 vs. Adrian Mannarino, only to have to pull out because of a knee injury.
Fish, sidelined with a heart ailment, wasn’t part of the draw.
Give that scuffling trio of Yanks a fife, a couple of drums, and a flag and they could be the new face of American men’s tennis, The Spirit of ’13. More bandages, please.
The last Yank left with a racket in his hand was Cape Cod favorite son Bobby Reynolds, a name so obscure on the world stage that it’s uncertain whether the Cape Cod Times has kept track of him. Reynolds, 30, and ranked No. 156 in the world, made it into the Wimbledon draw as a qualifier and departed a 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 victim to the stylish, powerful, oft-unmerciful Novak Djokovic.
A sincere-sounding guy, Reynolds seemed somewhat miffed when he was left to answer the media corps’ questions as to why USA males were tossed out of Wimbledon faster than a Frenchman asking for a good merlot at a British roadside pub. He said he felt the USTA has done a good job at developing talent and felt assured a bunch of American kids were on the verge of cracking the top 100.
“Just a couple of years,’’ noted Reynolds, “hopefully, a good one’s coming.’’
The best among the red-white-and-blue brigade recently was Andy Roddick, he of the flamethrower serve and sometimes self-deprecating wit. Roddick, 30, was a three-time finalist at Wimbledon and his 2003 title at the US Open remains the most recent Slams win in men’s singles by an American.
Once ranked No. 1 in the world, Roddick retired last year after more than $20 million in career earnings. Unlike any of the Yanks last week, he made it into Round 3 at Wimbledon last year, just weeks before he called it quits after losing at Arthur Ashe Stadium. In his 12 trips to London, only once did he fail to make it out of the second round. Upon Roddick’s retirement last September, knocked out by Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open, the US was left without an active Slams winner for the first time in 129 years. Poignantly, the day he lost to del Potro in the fourth round he was the last Yank to exit the men’s singles tournament.
McEnroe, in comments to a South African website last week, noted that it’s easier to get American girls engaged in the game than it is American boys. The better young male athletes in the US, said McEnroe, prefer to play football and basketball over tennis.
“We [tennis at large] are lower on the totem pole,’’ McEnroe was quoted in sportlive.co.za. “We are certainly not where we want to be.’’
Meanwhile, Wimbledon is not going away, its emerald courts forever lush, seductive, inviting. America’s men may have lost their footing, their way, even their egos. But enough of them will make it back there next June in hopes of hoisting the AELTC’s big, bright, shiny cup.
It is such a British thing, full of tradition, ceremony, and royalty. Our guys just have to get their game back, that’s all. And that has to begin at home.