Sock, Isner win at Open, but US men’s Slam drought is long
NEW YORK (AP) — Four American women reached the semifinals at last year’s U.S. Open, and only one was a Williams, a significant and symbolic step forward for the country’s next generation of female players.
And the American men? Not only has it been 15 years since one of them won any Grand Slam title, it’s been more than a decade since a single one even made it to the semifinals at Flushing Meadows. Both of those achievements came courtesy of Andy Roddick, who lifted the U.S. Open trophy in 2003, and reached the final four in 2006 — and has been retired so long he’s in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
The discrepancy between the success of the younger men and younger women is something those in charge of the U.S. Tennis Association’s development program were well aware of as the year’s last major tournament got started Monday.
“For whatever reason, we’ve got a lot more girls — and good athletes — than we do on the boys’ side,” said Jose Higueras, a USTA consultant.
“You’ve got to go around the country and keep fishing for those,” Higueras said. “The numbers are much bigger at the beginning on the girls’ side. I think they mature earlier. But our goal is to keep getting those groups of kids on the junior side.”
Martin Blackman, the general manager of USTA player development since 2015, cited players such as Frances Tiafoe, Jared Donaldson and Taylor Fritz — who came back from two sets down to beat Mischa Zverev on Monday — as examples of young, up-and-coming U.S. men, but said: “We’ve got to get those better athletes into the game on the boys’ side at a younger age.”
He also noted that as the player development program was getting started by Patrick McEnroe less than a decade ago, “We were pretty much in the basement on the women’s side.”
That’s no longer the case.
Aside from the contrast in success at the 2017 U.S. Open — when Sloane Stephens beat Madison Keys for the 2017 title, and Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe also reached the semifinals — there are other signs that American women are outpacing the men. Stephens also reached the French Open final this year, after beating Keys in the semis, for example.
And look at the rankings. There are eight U.S. women in the WTA top 100 who are 25 years old or younger, including Stephens at No. 3 and Keys at No. 14. There are five men in that age group in the ATP top 100, but only one in the top 40.
And there are zero men in the top 10 at any age. John Isner, who is 33, is No. 11 this week.
“It’s cyclical, and the men haven’t caught up to the women. There’s no doubt,” said Isner, who reached the first Grand Slam semifinal of his career at Wimbledon last month.
“We are certainly a little bit behind them,” he added. “But with that being said, we have a lot of players in the top 100, but that’s not quite good enough. We want to get a player, or players, deep into an event like this.”
Isner won his first-round match Monday, beating another American, Bradley Klahn, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4. The 18th-seeded Jack Sock, who is 25, joined Isner with a victory, eliminating Guido Andreozzi of Argentina 6-0, 7-6 (4), 6-2 to end an eight-match losing streak that included a defeat in qualifying.
What U.S. men have been missing in tennis is someone to lead the way and to attract new players, the way the women have had Venus and Serena Williams, who have been on the tour for two decades and won a total of 30 Grand Slam singles trophies.
“Obviously, they have been holding the torch for a long time. Venus and Serena have been incredible advocates for our sport and, yes, they inspire so many,” said Kathy Rinaldi, a former pro who is the U.S. Fed Cup captain and works with USTA player development. “A lot of credit goes to them.”