Can U.S. Men’s Tennis Get Past Sampras’s Glory Days?

With opening round play at this week’s SAP Open in San Jose, California, the ATP Tour kicks off a swing of hardcourt events along with a start of the season discussion on the state of U.S. men’s tennis and it hasn’t disappointed yet especially on the media side of things with several top tennis reporters openly wishing that at least two U.S. men would find a way to go deep in at a major for 2011. And they don’t just wish that because they’re patriotic Americans. Even with Andy Roddick still holding up as the U.S. No. 1, it’s getting harder and harder for tennis journalists here in the States to get their stories even on page two of the local and national sports pages.

The glory days of U.S. Men’s tennis, at least for the moment, are certainly in the past and it wasn’t a surprise to read several sentimental pieces today about “king” Pete Sampras and his exhibition match last night versus Gael Monfils in San Jose. Sampras’s reign over the sport is still missed a great deal here in the U.S. and you can’t blame the U.S. media for the avalanche of gushing articles over young Milos Raonic and his “Sampras-like” game this week as a way for them to relive those glory days of “Pistol Pete” even though the young phenom is — Canadian.

So has U.S. Men’s Tennis gotten so bad that our national media must turn to a young Canuck by way of Montenegro for salvation? Or are our boys ready to surprise once again? Well let’s go down the list and find out shall we?

Andy Roddick – “Just Hit the Ball.”

Roddick’s been written off by so many throughout his career that it wouldn’t surprise me if his name shows up a legit tax deduction on the 1040 form this year. But somehow Roddickmmanaged to finish in the top ten last year and it wouldn’t surprise me if he figures out a way to do so again in 2011. The biggest gripe with Roddick now is that he “doesn’t hit the ball”, especially on his forehand like he used to back in his early days. Frankly, I wish people would stop beseeching Andy to “hit it” because it’s not going to happen. The “slice and dice” game he’s picked up since pairing up with Coach Larry Stefanki is obviously his goto A game and I don’t expect it to change.

Roddick is defending a lot of points coming up in Indian Wells and Miami. A lot. Even if he doesn’t reach the finals there like last year, I still expect Roddick to reel off enough wins to keep him in the top ten. His best chance for a big title – dare I say Wimbledon?

John Isner & Sam Querrey – “Bring the Heat”.

I lumped “Quisner” together because aside from being BFF’s and double partners they alone stand the best chance of possibly taking over from Roddick as the U.S. No. 1. I emphasize the word possibly as both men still have major issues, mainly in the head department, that need to be sorted out before they can even hope to achieve that. Querrey didn’t do himself any favors last night after his first round loss to Lukas Lacko in San Jose by trying to blow off his press conference before being dragged back in by ATP officials. Querrey has admitted in the past he doesn’t enjoy fighting in tight matches, even referring to himself as “Debbie Downer” in terms of his on-court attitude and though his laid-back Cali vibe has endeared him to many fans, Querrey needs to toughen up mentally if he wants even a glimpse of a chance at the top ten. The same can be said for Isner who can get “hangdog” himself especially in a long match. But, Isner is more of a fighter than Querrey, as he certainly proved during his lengthy match against Nicolas Mahut. I still think Isner’s biggest problem is an overreliance on his big serve to get him out of trouble. “Bringing the heat” is fine and certainly an impressive weapon for “Big John”, but only if Isner can add another weapon, perhaps his forehand, will he have a chance of leapfrogging over Roddick.

Bottom line – “Quisner” will be dancing cheek to check in the top 20 to 30 range in the rankings all year.

The Veterans – Hanging Around.

Mardy Fish shocked everyone last summer first with his almost gaunt physique, a result of an intense change in diet and conditioning, then with a string of wins in Newport, Atlanta, and the finals of Cincy before losing to Novak Djokovic in New York. Since then, injury and now a thyroid issue is causing Fish to miss out on earning rankings points this winter. Fish certainly has the game to keep him in the top 20, but his body may once again hold him back from a shot at the top ten. Other U.S. Veterans like Michael Russell and Robert Kendrick will keep plugging away and could find themselves in the top 80 or so but the veteran everyone will be watching is James Blake who appears to be trying for one more run. I don’t know if Blake’s body is up for it to be honest, but I certainly wish him the best.

The Young Guns – Is Time on Their Side?

We still keep waiting and hoping that a young American will break out and stun the tennis world like Sampras did when won the U.S. Open at age 19. Donald Young is still proving that his game is a work in progress while Ryan Harrison, who got almost Melanie Oudin-like hype during last year’s U.S. Open still needs time to fine tune his game. The question is if either of these men are the next “one”, shouldn’t they start finding their way into the top 50 by year’s end? We’ll see.

The U.S. guys certainly have their work cut out for them in 2011 and though I feel it’s unfair to compare them and the current slate of players they have to face day in and day out versus the Sampras era, unfortunately that is going to happen, especially from a U.S. fanbase desperate to celebrate, if not the No. 1 player in the world, at least another Grand Slam champion. I hope one of the boys can have a breakthrough in 2011, not only for them since they’ve likely heard more about Sampras’s glory days than anyone, but for the U.S. tennis media that covers them. Cause they certainly need a new champion to not only help keep their jobs relevant in an overcrowded U.S. sports media marketplace but also so they don’t have to write another tale about the “good old days” of U.S. Men’s tennis while passing around the Kleenex box in the media center.

But until, break out the brewskis and fire up the Springsteen. Glory days, indeed.

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