Yes, we know.
In case you’ve haven’t heard or read, there are no American men in the top 10 of the ATP rankings for the first time since computer rankings were started back in 1973. Now while for dedicated tennis fans, this news doesn’t come as a complete surprise, apparently the rest of American sports media view this as something of a national crisis. Just today, noted basketball coach Dick Vitale was on the ESPN radio show “Mike & Mike” where he said the lack of a U.S. male in the top 10 was due to “a lack of hunger” as compared to other international players.
I know Vitale is known for his hyperbole but I wonder if he has ever seen Andy Roddick, currently ranked at No. 11, play tennis. Roddick has admitted that he’s the “world’s best bad player ever” but it has been Roddick’s desire and hustle to win that has won him many matches and lost him a few too as he’s admitted he has sometimes made errors simply due to trying almost too hard. That was the case in Roddick’s second round loss to Janko Tipsarevic at Wimbledon in 2008 where Roddick overhit balls for no reason and later described his desire to win as, “It’s like you want something so bad you almost squeeze it too tight.”
Also I wonder if Vitale saw John Isner’s epic five set, three day first round match against Nicolas Mahut at this year’s Wimbledon? I’m sure he might have heard about it since it was all anybody who followed sports talked about that week. Gee, I guess Isner’s “hunger” to win that match didn’t impress Vitale enough. Maybe if Isner had gone to Duke University instead of the University of Georgia he would have earned a few more points in Vitale’s book. (Sorry but as a proud “Tarheel” I had to get that in since if you ever heard Vitale call a Duke game you’ll know what I mean.)
Vitale’s comments aside, the outpouring of U.S. media hand wringing about the state of American tennis speaks to more how Americans view themselves in relation to the rest of the world more so than the individual results of any U.S. player, male or female. A lot of discussion continues as to why U.S. Tennis doesn’t dominate the way it did back in the glory days of the 70’s, 80’s and even mid 1990’s. The fact that American men aren’t dominating the sport doesn’t necessarily speak to America declining as a tennis superpower but more to the fact the sport is becoming more equal in terms of talent appearing from all nations. But tennis, being an international sport, unlike the sealed off bubbles of professional football, basketball and baseball, brings American talent face to face with the rest of the world. Lately Americans (aside from the Williams sisters) have been coming up short. And Americans don’t like that.
Plenty of American tennis fans root for players from other countries. But American sports media is handcuffed to a certain extent in not only reporting but also promoting U.S. tennis players. And when you’ve only got two or three players who, despite their best efforts, keep losing to that “Swiss guy” or “that southpaw from Spain”, it’s easier to blame Roddick and the other American men for not trying hard enough instead of appreciating and highlighting the tremendous talent that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal possess.
But probably the best quote regarding this perception that American players lack drive comes not from Roddick but from rising American star Melanie Oudin, herself now facing a bit of a media backlash since she hasn’t yet backed up her quarterfinal run last year at the U.S. Open with any substantial wins in 2010. Speaking about hearing comments from fans while playing at the Bank of The West Classic a few weeks ago in Stanford, the feisty Oudin said, “It’s kind of annoying sometimes when people are like ‘Pull it together Melanie,’ and they yell at me kind of. Really? You get down here and play. I know they mean it in a good way, like to say ‘C’mon’ Melanie,’ but you don’t have to say ‘Pull it together,’ like ‘Get your energy up’ That’s what some lady was telling me.” (Source: Forty Deuce)
To Vitale and the rest of the American media that continue to complain about American players and their lack of “hunger”, I concur with Oudin.
You get down here and play.
(Click here to listen to “Mike and Mike” episode with Dick Vitale)