It is a sorry state of affairs when the greatest country in tennis history needs a wild card ranked No 109 in the world to salvage national pride – and in the end Tim Smyczek was not up to it. The 25-year-old from Milwaukee needed to beat Marcel Granollers in the third round here for the United States to avoid the ignominy of not having a man in the last 16 at the US Open for the first time in the tournament’s 132-year-history. Smyczek lost 6-4, 4-6, 0-6, 6-3, 7-5.
His defeat completed a dreadful year for the men’s game here. Not one American reached the fourth round of any Grand Slam tournament, while the men’s top 20 last month did not feature a single American for the first time since the world rankings were launched 40 years ago.
While many traditional tennis countries have struggled to keep up with the rest of the world following the emergence of so many players from developing nations, the plight of the US is particularly shocking. No other country has produced as many Grand Slam champions, but it is now 10 years since an American man, Andy Roddick, last won a Grand Slam singles title. It is by far the longest drought in the country’s history and there is little sign of it ending.
From the days of Bill Tilden and Bill Johnston after the First World War, through the era of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors to the time of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, American men have dominated the game. Today, however, there are only six Americans in the world’s top 100 (compared with 14 from Spain and 13 from France), with only two, 20-year-old Jack Sock and 21-year-old Ryan Harrison, having the potential ever to challenge for major honours.
While tennis has been identified as the fastest-growing traditional sport here and the likes of Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys are bringing hope for the women’s game, that the sport is played regularly by only five million people, in a country with a population of more than 310 million, is a concern, particularly among the juniors
Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of player development at the United States Tennis Association and a commentator on ESPN, says there are younger players coming through but admits: “Obviously, overall we need better athletes and more kids in the pipeline. We need to get the rackets into the hands of more kids and more athletic kids just as a general statement. We’re working hard to do that, and we’re partnering with local programmes around the country. We’ve got some work to do.”