As the final leg of the Grand Slam season approaches, be prepared for a changing of the guard. By the end of this week's Toronto Masters, which will be followed by the Cincinnati Masters and the US Open, Andy Murray could be replaced by Robin Soderling at No 4 in the world rankings. More significantly, by tomorrow morning there will be no American man in the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time in history.
The decline of American tennis has been an issue for some years now and has been brought into sharper focus by the travails of Andy Roddick, the last of his countrymen to win a Grand Slam title. The 2003 US Open champion's remarkable performance last summer at Wimbledon, where he lost the final to Roger Federer after a marathon final set, appeared to signal a return to the top, but one quarter-final is all he has to show from four subsequent Grand Slams.
Roddick's level has dipped again since a brief resurgence in the spring hard-court season. After his loss to Gilles Simon in Washington last week, the former world No 1 complained of feeling sluggish, which he blamed on a possible vitamin deficiency.
Apart from four weeks in the middle of 2006, Roddick has been a permanent member of the world's top 10 for almost eight years, but the 28-year-old will be no better than No 12 in this week's updated list. John Isner and Sam Querrey are currently No 19 and 20 in the rankings, but Robby Ginepri is the only active American other than Roddick who has reached even a Grand Slam semi-final, having made the last four at the 2005 US Open.
Patrick McEnroe, the US Davis Cup captain, says the plight of American tennis is "not something I take lightly", but added: "It's not that surprising when you look at the way the game has changed and the global nature of the game. Players are coming from all over the world."
With so many tournaments played in the US, which hosts four of the nine men's Masters Series events, the game needs American tennis to prosper. McEnroe said that the USTA have put more money into player development: "They realise that for the continued success of the US Open, continued success of television deals, and success in growing the game, it's important to have our players at the top."
Murray is one of those who loves the American hard-court circuit. With 1,000 ranking points to defend after winning the title last year, the 23-year-old Scot needs to make the Toronto final to retain his No 4 spot in the rankings. Soderling, who has nothing to defend, is only 470 points behind.
The Scot and the Swede are scheduled to meet in the quarter-finals, but Murray will first have to beat Xavier Malisse or Michael Berrer, after which he could play Gaël Monfils in the third round. Murray is seeded to meet Rafael Nadal in the last four, with Federer and Novak Djokovic on course to meet in the other semi-final.
Murray was happy with his recent week's work in Los Angeles, where he lost last Sunday's final to Querrey after his first appearance since Wimbledon and his first tournament since parting company with Miles Maclagan, his coach. Nevertheless, it is now nine months since Murray won a title, in Valencia last November.
Nadal, who is playing doubles with Djokovic in Toronto, took a break after winning Wimbledon but started practising again at the end of last month. The Spaniard believes his physical condition has hampered his chances at the previous two US Opens, but will be full of confidence as he goes in search of the only Grand Slam to elude him. "I feel good," the world No1 said. "I am feeling confident in my body. I am thinking about my tennis not my body. Right now I am in perfect condition."Reuse content