On the day after the French Open began, I did a video about how you could already tell that there certainly would be no impact from American men. Predicting that no American man will reach, say, the semifinal of a grand slam event is no prediction at all these days — it is like predicting that Sepp Blatter will win reelection as FIFA president. No American man has reached the semifinal of a Slam this decade — the last was Andy Roddick, when he reached the Wimbledon final in 2009.*
*I remain convinced, by the way, that Roddick should come out of retirement to play in Davis Cup. It seems to me that, on the right surface, he’s still a threat and along with John Isner and the Bryan Brothers, that could make the United States at least somewhat dangerous as a team (on the right surface). It’s not going to happen, of course, but I think it would be pretty cool … and would make the Davis Cup interesting in America again.
In any case, there are no Americans in the Top 10 again, only one (Isner) in the Top 25, and the ages of the Top ranked Americans does not suggest great things are on the horizon:
No. 16 John Isner: Just turned 30.
No. 37 Jack Sock: 23 in September.
No. 38 Sam Querrey: 38 in July
No. 52 Donald Young: 26 in July
No. 58 Steve Johnson: 26 in December
No. 73 Tim Smyczek: 28 in December
No. 118 Austin Krajicek: 25 in June
No. 126 Ryan Harrison: Just turned 23
No. 136 Denis Kudla: 23 in August
No. 147 Rajeev Ram: Just turned 31
No. 149 Bjorn Fratangelo: 22 in July
There’s a reason I put the birth months of these guys — tennis is a sport where, generally, tennis playes peak young and age quickly. The youngest player on this list, Frantangelo, is 21 years and 10 months old. By that age, Rafael Nadal had won four French Opens and reached two Wimbledon finals. Roger Federer had won Wimbledon. Novak Djokovic had won the Australian Open and reached the semi-finals of all four Grand Slams. Andy Murray had reached a U.S. Open final.
For that matter, Andy Roddick had won the U.S. Open, Pete Sampras had won the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, Andre Agassi had reach two French Open finals and a U.S. Open final … it’s just very rare to find a great men’s tennis player in recent times who had not already flashed great talent and had great results by the time they turned 22 or so. There might be an American wave of juniors on the horizon, but logic suggested that — and this has been true for a long time — there was no American man who could even be a Cinderella Story at this year’s French Open.
Then came Jack Sock.
It’s too early to call him a Cinderella story, of course. Monday, he plays Rafael Nadal which means that by the time you read this he already might be a straight set loser in the Round of 16, hardly front page news. But it’s also true that Sock’s first round knockout of Dmitrov and destruction of Croatia’s 18-year-old phenom Borna Coric was impressive. The forehand is huge. The serve is big. And he has already stunned the tennis world by teaming with Canada’s Vasek Pospisil to beat the Bryans in the Wimbledon doubles final last year. No, he doesn’t seem to me to have the game to really contend with the greatest players but there’s something cool about him, including his name.
In my view, men’s tennis has never been better. You have Djokovic playing about as well as anyone has ever played, you have the old master Federer still playing at an absurdly high level, you have the mighty Nadal fighting off injury after injury, you have the mercurial Murray who limps around and looks half-beaten and then can play tennis that takes your breath away. Among the contenders are Kei Nishikori, who hits the most perfect groundstrokes I’ve ever seen, and Stan Wawrinka with that gorgeous backhand, and Marin Cilic, who sometimes looks invincible, and Raonic with his cannon serve and the beloved David Ferrer, who comes into the war with a straw and a few spitballs and just stays in there on sheer will.
It would be so great to have an American or two in that mix because, let’s face it, without an American in the mix, tennis can only matter so much to an American audience. This is true everywhere. Last year’s U.S. Open Final was the lowest rated ever, and last year’s Wimbledon final — despite the thrilling matchup of Djokovic and Federer — was down double digit percentages from the year before and was one of the lowest rated
In other words, it would be fantastic for American tennis if Jack Sock can keep going. I said in my video that there was no chance for an American man in Paris. I’d love to be wrong.