The American Male Slam Drought

If America is the “land of plenty,” then why are we the “land of none” when it comes to male slam singles titlists over the last nine years?

The last American male to win a grand slam tournament was Andy Roddick. He won the U.S. Open in 2003. Since then, we have experienced a nine year drought. To Roddick’s credit, he reached the finals of Wimbledon in 2004, 2005, and 2009. Additionally, he reached the U.S. Open final in 2006.

Roger Federer proved to be Roddick’s nemesis by defeating him in each of those finals. Conceivably, had “The Fed” not been around, Roddick would now be the proud owner of five grand slam singles titles.

Why is it then that our guys are falling short in the slams? The rationale I’ve often read and constantly hear professed by revered pundits is that “America is just in a down cycle.” I have great difficulty abiding by that excus…er, reasoning. It’s lame. Here’s why.

At completion of the 2010 census, the final population count in this country was 308,745,538. That number increased to about 312 million in 2011.

From those vast millions, it’s not unreasonable to think that surely one male who had been developing along the tennis super highway would emerge to at least be a serious contender to win a slam. But it’s not happening.

Switzerland has a population of 7.6 million, including Roger Federer. Serbia has 7.3 million, one of which is Novak Djokovic. Spain has 46.5 million including none other than Rafa Nadal and Argentina has 40 million with Del Potro and Gaston Gaudio.

Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal have accounted for 33 of the 36 singles slam titles for the last nine years, an impressive ninety-one percent strike rate. One of the other three titles also went to a European. Juan Carlos Ferrero won the French in 2003. Gaston Gaudio from Argentina the following year, and Juan Martin Del Potro, also Argentinian, won the U.S. Open in 2009. Europeans 34, South American’s 2,  Americans 0! That’s sad.

So despite having roughly 3x more people than Switzerland, Serbia, Spain, and Argentina combined, we can’t come up with the goods. Numbers don’t lie. The evidence suggests that that this phenomenon is something other than just a cyclic issue.

If merely cyclic, when is our down cycle due to end? And speaking of down cycles, what about poor England? The last British male singles slam winner was Fred Perry in 1936. What are they in, their regular 76 year down cycle?

With the exception of John Isner we don’t even appear to have a serious threat. Maybe with a little luck and proper alignment of the stars, Isner could win a Wimbledon title. It’s difficult to project success beyond that possibility, which is at best somewhat remote.

We need to man up and face the facts. We are not properly preparing players to win slams. Its no accident that Europeans, who grow up playing on clay, are now the dominant force on all surfaces. They learn early on the art of patience: how to construct a point, how to endure, how to develop the proper mindset to persevere even when the going gets tough.

Americans are obsessed with power. Powerful cars, powerful computers, powerful lawnmowers, powerful whatever. Unfortunately, that power fascination also carries over into tennis.

Our elite academies are teaching power tennis. The graduates can all hit the ball hard but they want the point to be over quickly. No patience. That brand of tennis doesn’t win against the calm, accommodating Europeans. They’ll run down all the power shots, make you hit one more ball, until there’s a “power outage,” then “game, set, and match.” Another “dirt baller” wins another slam.

I cannot fault our male players for this slam-less period. They are doing the best they can with what they have to work with. The bottom line is, they have been ill prepared to excel on center court on the last day of grand slam tournaments.

Only a radical restructuring of our fundamental approach to developing champions will provide a viable and sustainable solution to our present “down cycle” dilemma.

One thought on “The American Male Slam Drought

  1. Hi Martin,
    I believe that many other nations ask themselves the same question. You mentioned the Brits already. I have been living and working in the UK for five years and know that they try to do everything possible to produce the next Grand Slam champion. They are doing a pretty good job with their juniors and when looking at the junior Grand Slams of the last twelve months, they were pretty successful. Are we seeing a potential UK Grand Slam Champion other than the obvious Andy Murray? God knows! I’ve seen a few american hopefuls and I understand what you mean with your assessment of their skill level. I think the Americans are technique obsessed and put form before function, meaning that the tactics get taught after technique rather than understanding tactics and the technique as a necessary tool to realise the execution of the tactical decision.
    Although most of the american kids hit very impressive shots, they all seem very regimented or artificial. Players like Federer and Djokovic have more natural flow and seem to always be able to adjust their technique to the tactical requirements of the game situation-Roddick always struggled with that (i.e. backhand).
    I also believe that it’s not all that easy with the numbers game, as there are so many popular sports in America other than tennis, which are also less expensive (Team sports) and regimented to learn- or shall I say less structured and easier to access (surfing, skate and snowboarding etc.).
    India has more than a billion people and tennis is rather popular amongst the wealthier population (not a small number either). We might see a Wimbledon Champion from India in singles – in doubles they’re pretty successful already.
    China is pushing tennis big time! Li Na might just be the beginning of a bigger number of asian champs.
    Currently the tournament quality and the access to top level international tournaments in europe is pretty amazing- a huge advantage for the Europeans, as the distance to international competition is normally within an hours flight or so and just about affordable as the national associations support the tournament trips quite substantially.
    It’s not all about teaching the kids to practice on clay as much as possible, but to compete against the best of other nations on clay as much as possible.
    The answer? Either send the american kids to Europe during the spring season and run a great junior tournament season for kids from Europe and the rest of the world running up to the US Open. This is extremely expensive for both sides and needs some clever brains to think about a way how to make this as affordable as playing on home turf only.
    I look forward to more thoughts on that matter.

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