With every major tennis tournament come the lamentations over the sorry state of American men’s tennis.
With the French Open getting underway this week, right on cue came the all but inevitable “pre-mortem” inquest into the lowly rankings of the American men: No American has won a Grand Slam event singles title since Andy Roddick in 2003 at the U.S. Open, and with no American men ranked in the ATP’s top 10 (Switzerland and Spain each have two) and only one—John Isner, ranked number 11—in the top 60, Christopher Clarey’s status report in The New York Times was appropriately headlined "Once a Force in Tennis, Now Enduring a Grand Slam Drought.”
It made for especially dispiriting reading on the 25th anniversary of Michael Chang's upset French Open victory in 1989, one of the true highlights of the American experience on the red clay courts of the Stade Roland Garros. And the reasons given for the American fall from the top ranks of men’s tennis suggest that a quick recovery is not likely. (Serena Williams aside, the picture is not much brighter for American women—and Williams herself lost her second-round match this week.)
As Clarey wrote, coaches and former players, including Jim Courier, winner of the French Open in 1991 and 1992, “see a lack of world-class work ethic and toughness in too many of the young Americans. … ‘There are plenty of talented players who are not getting the most out of their talent,’ Courier said.” Jose Higueras, a Spanish player who won 16 tour titles and reached two French Open semi-finals, and who now is involved in player development work for the United States Tennis Association, has expressed similar sentiments:. “We are lacking competitiveness in our players,” he said. “They’ve got good backhands and forehands and serves, but they lack an understanding of how the game needs to be played. We have good coaches, but the culture of our players needs to improve.”