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U.S. Open: Poor showing for American men, with only two making it as far as the third round

John Isner reacts to an unforced error against

John Isner reacts to an unforced error against Jan-Lennard Struff during their second round match in the 2019 U.S. Open on Aug. 29. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

As 33-year-old Spaniard Rafael Nadal was seeking his 19th Grand Slam title in a championship tussle with 23-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev, who was seeking his first, the American contingent of 15 male players at the U.S. Open had long disappeared in the rear-view mirror.

Only two American players, John Isner and Tennys Sandgren, made it as far as the third round. Of the six American male players who were awarded wild cards into the tournament, only one managed to win his first-round match. Of the 32 seeds, only two were American. Of the 16 players who won a spot through qualifying, one was American.

Andy Roddick is the last American to have won the Open, his only Slam in 2003, and he is the last American to make the final, in 2006. He is also the last American male to make the final of any Slam, 2009 Wimbledon with a loss to Roger Federer.

While American women such as Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and the precocious teenager Coco Gauff have followed in the wake of Serena and Venus Williams, no American men have made the big move, made any consistent challenge in the Grand Slams or shown that there is a bright star on the horizon.

“We need lightning in a bottle on the men’s side,” said Patrick McEnroe, ESPN commentator and the former USTA director of tennis development.

Summing up the American men’s effort at this U.S. Open, “Very disappointing, and you can quote me on that,” McEnroe said.    

For McEnroe, there is a big gap in diversity between the women’s and men’s game in America, and while some of that has to do with the draw of the Williams sisters, a lot of it has do with sporting opportunities between the sexes.

“If you have a child, a girl, who has some sporting proclivity, where are you going to point her to?"  McEnroe said. “Tennis and golf are the two sports that offer young women the greatest opportunity to make a living out of playing a sport.

“If you have a boy, what are you telling him to do? Football, basketball, baseball, they all offer so much. Tennis has to be five or six on the list, at best.”

The modern game requires the best athletes, says McEnroe, and men’s side of the game doesn’t necessarily have a good chance of getting the best when they gravitate to the team sports.

McEnroe cited three Americans as having a good cjamce to move up to the higher rankings of the game, but not necessarily capable of winning the Grand Slams, which are the tournaments that bestow greatness.

“Reilly Opelka, for a big man he moves reasonably well and I think combined with the big serve he has a chance to go deep in a major." McEnroe said. Francis Tiafoe, he has a lot of physical prowess and if he works hard, he might have a chance. Taylor Fritz, he’s a really solid player without being a being a great athlete, so we’ll see."

Yes, we’ll see.

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