American Men In Tennis- Not Just Absent, Gone

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The Grand Slam is now in its 15th consecutive year without an American male singles champion at the Australian, French, British (Wimbledon), or US Open.

The last to clinch one of the quarterly calendar tournaments was Andy Roddick, who raised the trophy after routing Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero in three straight sets at the 2003 US Open.

The Nebraskan hopeful reached the prestigious tennis finals four more times- Wimbledon in ‘04, ‘05, ’09 and US Open in ’06- only to succumb at each encounter to the onslaught of Swiss racket prodigy, Roger Federer.

58 successive Grand Slams, lucrative tournaments that offer high ranking points, have been played to date without a single red, white and blue alpha male landing in the winner’s circle.

If Americans weren’t a dominant force in tennis during periods of the 1970’s through 90’s, then they certainly didn’t let more than a few years pass before retaking the world stage.

The Open Era got going in 1968 when tournaments allowed professionals to compete with amateurs. Prior to that watershed year even the Davis Cup, which harks back to 1900, kept the international competition an amateur-only event.

Arthur Ashe was the first American and African-American to nab victory in the Open Era (photo above), overtaking Netherlands’ Tom Okker at the 1968 finals in New York. Ashe and compatriot Stan Smith won a few more championships before giving way to Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe in the 1970’s.

Raging battles between Connors and McEnroe, one a fiercely-competitive maverick from California, the other an on-court, confrontational left-hander from Queens, NY, helped keep Americans at the top of the game.

Between them, Connors and McEnroe won half the Grand Slams from 1981 through 1984.

A four-year dry spell for the Americans followed and was finally broken by Michael Chang in 1989 when he defeated Stefan Edberg in five sets at the French Open. Chang remains the youngest male at 17 to claim a Grand Slam.

The 1990’s ushered in multi-champions Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. “King of Swing” Sampras retired with a world record 14 slam titles until surpassed by Federer in 2009 and matched by Nadal in 2013.

Agassi, considered the greatest service returner in the game’s history, was the first of only two men to complete a Career Golden Slam- winning all four singles and the Olympic gold (1996 for the Nevada native); Nadal is the other, earning gold at the 2008 games.

The new millennium did not see Americans fall back as much as the world catch up. A European juggernaut in the form of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic swept 48 of the past 58 slams, or 83% of the finals.

Nation winners are simply not guaranteed in a globalized, individual sport that offers deep talent.

Compounding the challenge in the U.S. is the draw of other popular sports that saps gifted tennis athletes. UCLA Bruins star quarterback, Josh Rosen, was a top-10 tennis player in junior rankings but chose to pursue football.

American men will eventually return to the victor’s podium, but until then fans won't stop being thrilled by high-caliber, borderless tennis.

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THIS WEEK

10 years ago

TENNIS June 12, 2009  Former German tennis star Boris Becker weds model Sharlely Kerssenberg in St. Moritz, Switzerland; the couple would separate in 2018. Turning professional in 1984, Becker won six grand slam singles- 2 Australian, 3 Wimbledon, 1 US Open- and retired 15 years later. At age 17, Becker was the youngest male at the time to claim a grand slam when he won Wimbledon in 1985.

20 years ago

SOCCER June 19, 1999  Team USA dispatches Denmark 3-0 at the opening round of the Women’s World Cup, which was held in the U.S. The ladies would go on to sweep Group A and defeat Germany at the quarterfinals, Brazil at the semifinals and China in penalties (5-4) for the World Cup title. With over 90,000 spectators in attendance at the Rose Bowl, it was the most watched event ever in women’s sports.

30 years ago

BASKETBALL June 13, 1989  The Detroit Pistons sweep the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 for their first NBA championship. The tournament was a rematch of the previous year’s series which saw the Lakers defeat the Pistons 4-3. Detroit’s Joe Dumars was named MVP for averaging 27.3 ppg. The Pistons would go on to wear the national crown again in 1990 after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 4-1.

40 years ago

GOLF June 17, 1979   Hale Irwin takes the U.S. Open, firing an even 284 and beating former champions Gary Player and Jerry Pate by two strokes. It was the second major victory for Irwin, who went on to win his third and last in 1990; all three majors were at the U.S. Open. Irwin turned professional in 1968 and is the all-time leader in the PGA Tour Champions (seniors > 50) with 45 wins, including 7 senior majors.