When Roddick retires, American tennis will face star problem
As last week's Legg Mason tournament in Washington D.C. staggered to a connoisseurs-only conclusion, we heard a familiar lament: Where are the Americans, with all that hard-court talent? To me, this was the more pressing question: If
I've never watched a Grand Slam event with even a single thought about Americans -- who's doing well, who's been eliminated, any of that. If they're all gone within two days, no problem, as long as compelling characters remain. If the world's Top 5 fit the molds of
It helps the sport, though, if
Consider the barren landscape when Roddick retires, or slips so far down the rankings that he loses his competitive edge. Who's next in line for a high-profile interview?
In lamenting Roddick's early exit from the D.C. tournament,
Wise is not a year-round tennis follower, but that's just the point. To interest a national columnist, network talk-show host or splashy magazine, you need to offer something more than an inside-out forehand. (Roddick, by the way, doesn't need the presence of his supermodel wife,
I'm just wondering what happens to American tennis, from a marquee standpoint, when Roddick departs. Isner just doesn't have the desire, or the personality, to get on that stage. Querrey can be astonishingly dull, and half the time, he's talking about wanting to get off the court and go home (that happened again in L.A., before he handsomely recovered to beat
It's clear that American men's tennis has been in severe drought since the winter of 2003-04, right after Roddick won the U.S. Open. Once
It's not just the talent that has gone missing, though. It's the presence of a strong, undeniably radiant personality. That covers a lot of ground, from class to crass, and controversy most certainly counts. The tennis boom of the 1970s wouldn't have carried nearly as much steam if Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe weren't torching the bastions of tradition like a couple of rebellious punks.
It goes all the way back, again, to Tilden, whose singular elegance put tennis in the company of
Put it this way, any time tennis staged a high-class social gathering -- think London, Zurich or Monte Carlo -- top American players have turned heads. Perhaps they triggered thoughts of utter disdain ("Oh my God, I despise that guy"), but they got people's attention. I doubt if Isner or Querrey could even dress for such an occasion, let alone bring any kind of star power.
Is it their fault? Of course not. Credit those two for cracking the world's Top 20 and aiming for the top. Beware the residue, though, when Roddick descends from relevance. Beyond the baseline, American tennis will be duller than a knit-off.