Roger Federer – Number 20 at the 2018 Men’s Australian Open

One of the great joys of being a tennis spectator is the Grand Slams. Each slam has a unique personality and every year they are many great individual stories. It is like having four Super Bowls every year.

The 2018 Men’s Australian Open was no exception. On the men’s side, the top story was Roger Federer’s five-set victory over Marin Cilic in the finals 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. This was Federer’s 20th Grand Slam singles victory.

Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003. That was eons ago! In 2003, George Bush had been president for two years, Saddam Hussien was captured, Lance Armstrong won his fifth Tour de France. Camera phones were introduced in 2003 and cargo pants were the rage.

At the time, expectations for Federer were low because he was an up-and-coming player. Six months later, he won his first Australian Open. Fourteen years later, Federer is still dominating. His victory over Cilic was his sixth Australian Open championship.

The 2018 Men’s Australian Open saw another lackluster performance by the American men. The top American performances were by unseeded players Ryan Harrison, who went 2-1, and Tennys Sandgren who was 4-1. Harrison lost to #6 seed Marin Cilic. Sandgren lost in the quarters to Chung, an unseeded player from Korea. Unfortunately, Sandgren’s playing accomplishments were overshadowed by comments he had previously made on social media.

The 3 seeded Americans had a tough tournament. Sam Querrey, #13, won a round while Jack Sock, #8, and John Isner, #16, were one and done.

The seven first round losers included John Isner, Kevin King, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Donald Young, Jared Donaldson, and Frances Tiafoe. In fairness to the men, King was defeated by #15 seed Tsonga; Johnson was ousted by fellow American, Kudla; Young fell to #14 seed Djokovic, Donaldson lost to #21 seed Ramos-Vinolas and Tiafoe fell to #12 seed Del Petro.

The four second round losers, who were 1-1, also faced tough draws. They included MacKenzie McDonald, Denis Kudla, Tim Smyczek, and Sam Querrey. Kudla lost to #5 seed Theim and Donaldson lost to #21 seed Ramos-Vinolas.

In total, the 13 American men won 10 matches while losing 13. Harrison and Sandgren won 6 of the 10 matches. Overall, the performance by the American men was about the same as 2017, when 14 men were 10-14.

Hoping for a stronger performance from the younger players in the French Open starting May 27th.

2018 Men's Australian Open

Making Tennis Great Again – Federer and Nadal at the 2017 Australian Open

There were many great individual success stories at the 2017 Australian Open. The comeback of Venus Williams to reach the finals against her sister was a dream come true for tennis fans. The return to glory for Federer and Nadal was even more spectacular because neither was expected to reach the finals.

As a relatively unknown, Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003. Six months later, he won his first Australian Open. Federer’s 2017 victory over Nadal was his fifth Australian Open championship.

Federer’s first Grand Slam seems like it was light years ago. George Bush was midway through his first term as U.S. President and Chicago won an Oscar for best movie of the year.

Since Federer’s victory at Wimbledon in 2003, there have been 55 Grand Slams, including the 2017 Australian Open. Roger Federer has won 18, Nadal has won 14, and Djokovic has won 12. That is 44 Grand Slams.

Other players have won only 11 events. Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have both won 3 Slams each and there were five “one-hit” wonders. In other words, only 10 different men have hoisted a Grand Slam trophy since Wimbledon 2003.

Of those 11 Slams that the big three did not win, one member of the trio was in the finals of six events. Since Wimbledon 2003, there have been only 5 Grand Slam finals that did not include Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic.

If this was baseball, fans would be hollering, “Break up the Yankees”.

At no point during this period of 55 Grand Slams has an American captured a championship. Andy Roddick was the last American to appear in a slam finals (2006 U.S. Open). Andre Agassi retired at that event, leaving Roddick as the top American male player.

The combination of Agassi’s retirement and the depth of great European players has made it rough sledding for the American men. That was evident at the 2017 Australian Open.

Fourteen American men were entered at Melbourne. Eight of them started out strong. First round losers included 6 players: Michael Mmoh, Jared Donaldson, Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Bjorn Fratangelo, and Donald Young. With the exception of Donald Young, the other five are part of the youngsters who are making the transition from solid junior careers to the professional circuit. There is reason to be optimistic they will become strong contenders in the next 2 to 3 years.

Things took a turn for the worse in the second round when John Isner, Ryan Harrison, Noah Rubin, Steve Johnson, Frances Tiafoe, and Ernesto Escobedo were ousted.

The remaining two American men, Sam Querrey and Jack, Sock lost in the third round.

Overall, the American men won 10 matches while losing 14. Hopefully better times are in store for the young American men.

As for Federer and Nadal… wouldn’t it be great if they reached the finals of several other Grand Slams this year?

Next stop, French Open.

federer and nadal

Sam Querrey Posts Top Performance for American Men at Wimbledon

The quality of American men’s tennis has gradually deteriorated since Pete Sampras unofficially retired in 2002. It dropped off further when Andre Agassi played his last match in 2006. The final nail in the coffin was delivered when Andy Roddick stepped away from the sport in 2012. For the past 13 years there has been very little to cheer about on the men’s side, especially at the Grand Slam tournaments.

Recently, John Isner has been the top performer. With his big serve he has frequently been ranked between 15th and 25th. That means he has usually been seeded in that same range. Over time, he has been a dependable performer. In many tournaments he has usually held his seed and had the best record of any of the American men.

At this year’s Wimbledon Isner was seeded 18th. Even though he had a 2-1 record and was defeated in the round of 32 he did not have the top performance of the American men.

Sam Querrey provided a pleasant surprise for the American men with a 4-1 record! As the 28th seed he defeated Lucas Rosol (Czechoslovakia) in the first round and Thomaz Beluci (Brazil) in the second round. Then he stunned Novak Djokovac (Serbia) in 4 sets in his third round match. Querrey continued his winning ways in the round of 16 by defeating Nicolas Mahut (France) before bowing out to Milos Raonic (Canada) in the quarterfinals.

The 11 American men posted a respectable 14-11 record at Wimbledon this year.

The five first round losers included Denis Kudla, Bjorn Fratangelo, Brian Baker, Taylor Fritz, and Rajeev Ram.

Five Americans won their second round matches. Donald Young was the only player to exit with a 1-1 record.

Jack Sock, Dennis Novikov, and John Isner were 2-1 and lost in the round of 32.

Like Querrey, Steve Johnson had a strong performance, finishing 3-1 and departing in the round of 16.

Most likely the surprising performance of Querry and Johnson is an anomaly. One can only hope that Querrey, Johnson, and Isner will continue their winning ways at the U.S. Open next month. Stay tuned!

ATP Rankings Foretell Long Summer for American Men

The release of the May 23rd ATP rankings foretells another dismal summer for the American men in the Grand Slams. The 3 American men with the greatest chance of success are John Isner, Jack Sock, and Taylor Fritz.

Isner has been consistently ranked 15th to 20th. He is frequently seeded in the top 16 and uses his big serve to hold his seed. His best showing in a Grand Slam event came in 2011 when he reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.

Jack Sock has been inconsistent in his short career. Sock’s best showing in a Grand Slam tourney came in 2015 when he reached the 4th round of the French Open.

The other long shot is newcomer Taylor Fritz. He is at the head of a group of youngsters who are expected to reach the elite ranks in the next 3 to 5 years.

The top 10 includes players from 9 countries. Only Switzerland is represented by two players, Federer and Wawrinka. The average age of the top 10 is 29.2 years. Generally, players above the age of 30 are on the downhill side of their careers.

Top Ten ATP Through May 23rd 2016

Ranking Player Age Points
1 Novak Djokovic 29 16,150
2 Andy Murray 29 8,435
3 Roger Federer 34 7,015
4 Stan Wawrinka 31 6,315
5 Rafael Nadal 30 5,675
6 Kei Nishikori 26 4,470
7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 31 3,355
8 Tomas Berdych 30 2,850
9 Milos Raonic 25 2,785
10 Marin Cilic 27 2,775

There are 8 Americans ranked in the top 100. They are excellent players who will occasionally have some great wins, but their lack of points demonstrates they are not capable of consistently competing with the top 10 players. The average age of the American players ranked in the top 100 is 25.9 years. Isner and Ram are over 30.

American Players Ranked in the Top 100

Ranking Player Age Points
17 John Isner 31 1,965
25 Jack Sock 23 1,505
34 Steve Johnson 26 1,190
37 Sam Querrey 28 1,135
53 Denis Kudla 23 855
67 Taylor Fritz 18 758
70 Rajeev Ram 32 752
76 Donald Young 26 712

Finally there are 9 Americans ranked between 101st and 200th.

American Players Ranked 101 Through 200

Ranking Player Age
103 Bjorn Fratangelo 22
121 Tim Smyczek 28
134 Austin Krajicek 25
140 Jared Donaldson 19
146 Dennis Novikov 22
147 Ryan Harrison 24
157 Alexander Sarkissian 26
169 Noah Rubin 20
188 Frances Tiafoe 18

The younger players in the above group are learning how difficult it is to make the transition from junior tennis to the pro tour. The older players are wondering if it is time to hang up the racquet.

It will be interesting to see how many of these players make it into the top 100 by the end of the summer.

Next stop, French Open.

American Men at U.S. Open – When Will Insanity End?

“Insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results.” – attributed to Albert Einstein.

Unfortunately, this saying applies to the USTA’s player development program, particularly on the men’s side.

Sixteen American men were entered in the 2015 U.S. Open. The group included a handful of up-and-coming juniors; however, the majority were the same American men who are excellent players who have had lackluster performances in the Grand Slams.

Those who exited the tournament after first round losses included:
• Tommy Paul
• Tim Smyczek
• Steve Johnson
• Ryan Shane
• Frances Tiafoe
• Ryan Harrison
• Bjorn Fratangelo
• Denis Kudla
• Sam Querrey
• Jared Donaldson

Second round losers included:
• Mardy Fish
• Jack Sock
• Rajeev Ram
• Austin Krajicek.

After two rounds only Donald Young and John Isner remained.

As a junior Donald Young was billed as the next Arthur Ashe. Unfortunately, he has never lived up to that billing, typically losing in the first round of most Grand Slams. This was his best showing in a Grand Slam since 2011. Young’s singles record at the U.S. Open has been 9-11.

Since 2010 John Isner has been a consistent performer, usually winning two or three matches before bowing out. Isner’s previous best at the U.S. Open came in 2011 when he reached the quarterfinals. Isner’s career record at the U.S. Open has been 21-9.

Young and Isner won their third round matches, but lost in the fourth round to Wawrinka and Federer, respectively.

To put things in perspective, Roger Federer has been 85-10 at the 2015 U.S. Open, prior to this year’s event.

Overall, the 16 American men won 10 matches and lost 16 at this year’s event.Insanity USTA Player Development

On a positive note, the American juniors have dominated play in the U.S. Juniors Open; however, the new general manager of USTA Player Development, Martin Blackman, has been quick to temper expectations for the juniors.

The bottom line … It is tough to develop strong juniors. It is even more difficult to train strong juniors who can make the transition to the professional game and compete and win Grand Slam events.

We’ll see if the latest change by the USTA puts an end to the insanity known as USTA Player Development.

Another Weak Performance by American Men at Wimbledon

Only one of the seven American men made it to the second week of the Championships at Wimbledon. The top performer for the Americans was Denis Kudla, a Ukranian who moved to the U.S. when he was a youngster.

Kudla entered the tournament ranked 105th in the world. He won three matches before losing in the round of 16.

The storyline hasn’t changed for the American men and it won’t in the near-term. The American men are excellent players, but they are not among the elite players in the world.

The top ranked American, #17 John Isner, won two rounds before losing to Marin Cilic in another excruciating five set match. Isner’s big serve isn’t enough to make him a Grand Slam champion.

American Men World Ranking 6/29 First Round Loss Second Round Loss Round of 32 Round of 16
John Isner 17th X
Denis Kudla 105th X
Donald Young 58th X
Steve Johnson 52nd X
Tim Smyczek 77th X
Jack Sock 31st X
Sam Querrey 36th X

Combined the American men were 7-7.

While the short-term outlook for the American men is dim, it should be noted that all eight junior boys won their first round matches in the Junior Championships. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the American men if the current juniors can make the transition to pro game in the next couple of years.

American Men Out in First Week of Australian Open

Week one of the 2015 Australian Open has come and gone – and so have all of the American men.

Sad to say, their performance supported the comments made by Pete Sampras at a recent IPTL press conference. He stated that he doesn’t see any American men on the horizon who are capable of breaking into the top ten. Sampras was asked to comment on the reasons for the demise of the American me. He was diplomatic and mentioned there were a lot of reasons.

Many in the industry would say the crux of the problem is the inept USTA Player Development program. Without any star American men, young boys don’t aspire to be tennis players, much as they did when Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were at the top of their games.

In addition, some feel that American kids have too many options. The sport has enjoyed growth around the globe and young players from other countries are motivated than you Americans.

This year there were only 7 men in the Australian Open, compared to 12 last year. Fortunately Tim Smyczek and Michael Russell qualified, otherwise there would have only been five Americans.

John Isner is the constant for the American men. He was seeded in 19th and he held his seed. He won two matches prior to bowing out in the round of 32. Steve Johnson was also 2-1.

Denis Kudia, Sam Querrey, and Michael Russell were first round losers.

Donald Young and Tim Smyczek both won a match before losing in the second round. To Smyczek’s credit, he took Rafael Nadal to five sets before bowing out.

Overall the men won six matches and lost seven.

The Grand Slams are much more fun to follow when there are American men playing during the second week of the tournament!

Chicago Cubs, ’69 Mets, USTA Player Development

What do the Chicago Cubs, 1969 New York Mets, and USTA Player Development have in common? They are the laughing stock of professional sports.

The performance of the American men at Wimbledon was embarrassing. The men won five matches and lost ten. Nobody advanced past the third round.

On the stage of the U.S. Open, the greatest Grand Slam for American players, the performance of the American men was even worse than Wimbledon. They won five matches and lost twelve. Even worse, they lost nine of the matches 3-0, i.e. the American men were not competitive.

First round losers included Marcos Giron, Bradley Klahn, Donald Young, Wayne Odesnik, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Noah Rubin, Ryan Harrison, and Jared Donaldson.

Tim Smyczek was 1-1, winning his first round match before being thumped by Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round.

Both Sam Querrey and John Isner won two matches before bowing out in the third round. Querrey was destroyed by Novak Djokovic while Isner lost in four sets to veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber.

The combined record of the American men at the U.S. Open was 5 and 12.

The American men are excellent players; however, none of them are elite players and they never will be. It is clear the player development programs of other countries have aspirations for greatness that far exceed those of the USTA Player Development program.

At best, the USTA Player Development program has developed sparring partners for the world’s elite players. Hopefully, the leadership of the USTA has taken notice and will make changes. The U.S. Open would be a lot more fun to watch, if American players were strong enough to compete in the second week of the tournament.

USTA Player Development Not Producing Elite Players

The USTA Player Development program has never been effective, but in 2014 it continues to reach new lows. Prior to the U.S. Open there are only two men ranked in the top 50  and 6 men ranked in the top 100.

Going into the 2014 U.S. Open there are 27 countries with men ranked in the top 50 according to the ATP rankings. There are three countries with more than two ranked men:

  • Spain – 10 players
  • France – 6 players
  • Czechoslovakia 3 players.

The following countries each have two players ranked in the top 50:

  • Switzerland – 3rd and 4th
  • Argentina – 13th and 26th
  • Canada – 6th and 46th
  • Croatia – 27th and 30th
  • Germany – 25th and 35th
  • USA – 15th and 47th
  • Italy – 17th and 49th

John Isner and Donald Young are the top ranked Americans.

The following countries each have one player ranked in the top 50:

  • Serbia – 1st
  • Bulgaria – 8th
  • Great Britain – 9th
  • Japan – 11th
  • Latvia – 12th
  • Rhodesia/South Africa – 20th
  • Ukraine – 22nd
  • Russia – 23rd
  • Columbia – 32nd
  • Taipei/Taiwan – 34th
  • Portugal – 38th
  • Uruguay – 40th
  • Australia – 41st
  • Poland – 43rd
  • Uzbekistan 44th
  • Austria – 45th
  • Kazakhstan – 50th

Only six American men are ranked in the top 100. In addition to Isner and Querrey, the other top 100 Americans are:

  • Steve Johnson – 51st
  • Jack Sock – 55th
  • Sam Querrey – 57th
  • Tim Smyzcek – 90th

Thanks to the USTA Player Development Program, the state of American professional tennis has never been worse.

U.S. Men Continue to Disappoint in Grand Slams (Australian Open)

Julius Caeser is credited with saying, “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered). Clearly Caeser was not in charge of the USTA Player Development program.

Of the 12 American players entered in the Australian Open 9 were first round losers (Ryan Harrison, Bradley Klahn, Tim Smyczek, Rhyne Williams, Wayne Odesnik, John Isner, Steve Johnson, and Michael Russell).

  • Jack Sock finished the tournament 1-1 and exited in the second round.
  • Donald Young and Sam Querrey won 2 matches before bowing out in the third round.

Overall the 12 men won 5 matches and lost 12.

Based on the performance of the U.S. men in this and previous Grand Slam events, it is clear the USTA needs someone with a Julius Caesar mindset to take charge of USTA Player Development.

Note:  In 2003 Roger Federer won his first Wimbledon. There have since been 43 Grand Slams Including that event and the most recent Australian Open. Only eight men have won titles during that period:

  • Roger Federer 17
  • Rafael Nadal 13
  • Novak Djokovic 6
  • Andy Murray 2
  • Stanislas Wawrinka 1
  • Juan Martin del Potro 1
  • Gaston Gaudio 1
  • Andy Roddick 1
  • Marat Safin 1

As an aside, Murray defeated Djokovic in the finals of both his Grand Slam victories, del Potro upset Federer in his only Grand Slam victory, and Wawrinka upset Nadal in the most recent Grand Slam. In other words, at least of the trio (Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic) have been in the finals of all but three Grand Slams since the 2003 Wimbledon tournament.

It is safe to say that Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have dominated the sport for the past decade.  Unfortunately, they are only part of the reason the U.S. continue to disappoint in Grand Slams. A major part of the problem is the USTA Player Development program.