Wednesday June 23rd, 2010

As the championship continues far from home, with the United States trying to impress the world ...

No, no ... not that championship ...

The other sedate, genteel and -- thank God -- mercifully quiet one ...

Yes, Wimbledon has also begun, and, if you get the chance to watch Andy Roddick, be sure to gather your children and grandchildren round the television too so that they can tell their grandchildren: back in 2010 I actually saw the last American tennis champion play.

The fact is that, at 27, which is nearing old age in tennis, Roddick is the last American male to win a Grand Slam title -- and that seven years ago.

On the women's side, the great American tennis void is even more gaping. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, are older than Roddick, and no younger American female tennis player appears to have any championship potential.

What makes this all the more ironic is that we are experiencing another tennis boom. More than thirty million Americans now play the sport. Why can't any of them under the age of 27 be any good?

Since Big Bill Tilden won Wimbledon in 1920, American men and women have won on Centre Court in every decade, but Pete Sampras was the last male Yank to win, in 2000, and in those ninety years of American dominance, never have we gone so long without one of our gentlemen or ladies winning. Now, after Roddick and the Williams sisters, the score for the future for the old red-white-and-blue is love-forty.

The two best after Roddick are John Isner and Sam Querrey, ranked 19th and 23rd. They're both nice enough, perhaps especially on grass, but in that wonderful term the English prefer, they may best be described as "useful" players. (Though Isner is certainly getting some attention from his all-time first-round bout against Nicolas Mahut.) Only seven American men are in the top 100. As recently as 1989, seven Americans were in the top 10.

The situation is even more parlous with our women. After the Williams sister act, our next-best is ranked a distant 34. We have all of four women in the top one hundred. In fact, it is far more difficult to understand why American girls now fail so much at tennis. Boys have popular team sports to attract the best athletes, but girls' team sports don't produce nearly as much attention or remuneration. The biggest female athletic celebrities and the ones who have made the most money have traditionally been tennis players. Good grief, we pay more attention just to how Venus and Serena dress than to what other U.S. women athletes actually do on their field of play.

But tennis is an arduous exercise and it's lonely hitting all those thousands of shots against a relentless ball machine. Maybe it's simply become too rigorous a game for our children to devote themselves to ... so, you can roll up the net when you leave, Mr. Roddick.

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