Following American Pro Tennis

Following American Pro Tennis

Thursday, February 6, 2014

American Men's Tennis Starts 2014 Poorly

With the way Davis Cup went, in addition to the first Grand Slam of the season, I think we can officially call the start to 2014 a disappointment. That's not to say there have not been promising moments. John Isner won the first ATP tour title for an American this season in Auckland, Eric Butorac made the finals of the Australian Open in doubles, Stefan Kozlov made the finals of the Australian Open in juniors, Bradley Klahn won a challenger title in Maui, and Wayne Odesnik won a challenger title in Chitre. So it could be worse... it could always be worse.

I think it's safe to say the negatives have outweighed the positives, though. The title in Auckland for Isner came at the expense of him being able to compete at the Australian Open or Davis Cup, and without him the lack of depth really showed. Only two Americans made it to the 3rd round of the Aussie (Donald Young and Sam Querrey) and they were both dispatched in routine straights. Those two would end up representing the Americans in San Diego.

Again, I have to question the decision to pick clay as the best surface for us. Regardless of what surface you picked, losing twice to Andy Murray was always going to be a given. I give Sam Querrey credit for rebounding from a horrid loss to at least show up, give it emotion, and keep it competitive against Murray on a surface he was clearly uncomfortable with. Sam's loss to James Ward is absolutely the crushing blow to any chance the Americans had, not that Donald Young would have amounted to much against Ward in the 5th rubber. Querrey and Young both simply couldn't move on the surface, at all. Why put your players in a position like that? I realize Isner likes slower surfaces so he can get into service games, and the Bryan's two straight losses on fast surfaces against big serving teams left Courier second guessing himself, but there's no excuse for opting against a high bouncing hardcourt. The benefits of the speed (or lack thereof) and bounce would have been close enough to clay, but the footing for Querrey and Young would have made a world of difference. I strongly disagree with the decision to go with red clay.

It's possible the Americans would have lost regardless, but they didn't do themselves any favors. Home field is supposed to be about giving yourself an advantage. You don't put yourself on the worst surface possible because you won on clay in Switzerland and France a year ago. Those wins came at a time when Isner's serve was untouchable and we know that when he's on he can serve through any court. In the defense of Courier and the USTA, though, I doubt clay would have been the choice if they knew Isner wouldn't be playing. But that's what happens when you pick the surface for the benefit of one guy. Yes the Bryans prefer clay against big serving teams too, but they've won most of their grand slams on hard. Let's not let the last two matches cloud the historical evidence that regardless of the surface they are the favorites against any team, ever.

Aside from the court which put Young and Querrey at what I consider a significant disadvantage, the effort was poor. Young put up no fight whatsoever against Murray, barely seemed to care, and he went through the motions giving away points in quick succession. Querrey's loss to Ward, up 2 sets to 1 and 4-2 in the 4th has to go down as one of the biggest choke jobs in the history of American tennis. I don't know that Todd Martin has ever had one that bad. And once it was 2-0 the tie was over. The Bryan's match was a formality, and so was the Murray-Querrey affair. Sam put up a good fight in that one, but you always knew how that match would end and the longer it went the less likely Sam would stay competitive. It's too bad DY didn't get a chance at a dead rubber, the reps and redemption against a weaker opponent would have been nice if nothing else but for confidence and experience.

The reality is this: right now the USA has one guy that's a perennial top 20 guy in Isner that's hurt, and another that belongs on the ATP tour despite a massive struggle with motivation and confidence (Querrey). The rest (Harrison, Kudla, Smyczek, Johnson, Young, Russell, Klahn etc etc etc...) are all challenger level players. Yes Smyczek had a nice run at the Open but let's not confuse him for a guy that can do that consistently.

Consider the tour records in their career:

Young 42-90
Klahn 3-9
Smyczek 15-30
Sock 19-25
Russell 71-139
Kudla 10-21
Odesnik 41-54
Harrison 53-77
Williams 5-14
Johnson 9-20

Things can change, but at things stand, these are successful challenger players and unsuccessful tour players. As much as we're missing "top" guys right now, we're missing depth. America is currently not fit to survive the absence of Mardy Fish and John Isner. These guys need to get better in a hurry if we're going to enjoy Davis Cup, Slams and even 250s anytime soon.

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