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The Need for the Next Great American Men’s Tennis Player

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by Alex Chiles, who you can follow on twitter here: @axchiles

 

When Colin asked me if I would write about tennis, my first thought was that I couldn’t possibly do it, because I don’t really follow tennis anymore. But then I started to wonder… why is that the case?

When I started college at KU in 2006, my roommate introduced me to the world of tennis. Quickly it became a big part of my life. We would walk down to the courts at night and play across from Allen Fieldhouse, our only audience an illuminated Phog Allen. We watched the grand slam tournaments, paying close attention even in the early rounds. We set our alarms to ungodly early hours in order to watch the championship matches that were played in time zones far away from Lawrence, KS.

At the time, there were countless reasons to watch men’s tennis. I watched as Roger Federer played at the top of his game, beginning the most dominant run in tennis history (including 23 straight semifinals and 36 straight quarterfinals, which is still hard to fathom). I watched as Rafael Nadal became a clay force and later expand his game to challenge Fed on a regular basis. I watched as Novak Djokovic went from master imitator (see below) to a consistent competitor as he matured.

 

Since college, my interest has sharply waned. I rarely watch anymore, maybe catching a grand slam final now and then. Sometimes, it’s not even on my radar, and I find myself googling to see who won. This is despite the fact that all the players mentioned above still playing. Fed just won his first slam in a long while after declining into just a very good player instead of an amazing one, Nadal has had stretches of dominance sandwiched with injuries, and Djoker has played sensational tennis (skyrocketing to #4 on the all-time slam titles list, behind the two previously mentioned players and a guy named Pete Sampras).

So this takes us back to the original question: why has my interest waned? I thought back to those experiences I mentioned before: playing on the KU courts late at night, watching those early rounds of the grand slams, watching the finals live at 3 AM. I wondered, what did all of those have in common? What was the core of those happy memories?

The answer, of course, was my favorite player: Andy Roddick. I would attempt to mimic his serve on those late-night tennis sessions, I watched him dominate lesser players in early rounds (something he was always a master at), and I watched him fight tooth and nail against better players in the late rounds trying to break through to win his 2nd grand slam title (he never did).

In 2012, Andy Roddick retired. With it, American men’s tennis began a hibernation phase that it’s still in today. That’s not to say a few haven’t tried to wake it from its slumber. John Isner has had his moments (11 hours and 5 minutes worth of them in a record setting Wimbledon match) but joins fellow American Sam Querrey in not yet making a Grand Slam semifinal. Jack Sock had an exceptional Juniors career and was initially pegged as the next Andy Roddick. While he has found real success in doubles and next-level sportsmanship (see below), he has not gone beyond the 4th round after 7 years of playing singles matches in grand slams.

 

And that’s… pretty much it. So, what’s the issue? The primary factor here is the lack of tennis played by young kids, which is a little bit mind boggling. There are tennis courts everywhere and the equipment is relatively cheap. It’s a catch-22 though, because what would motivate these kids to play tennis would be a dynamic, popular American tennis player and unfortunately, without a bunch of young kids playing tennis the chances of one breaking through is lower.

Of course, all it would take is just one special kid to pave the way.

But until then? We wait.

 

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