By Alexandra Willis
5 May 2011
Come next Monday, with just two weeks to go to the French Open at Roland Garros, and six weeks to The Championships at Wimbledon, there will be no American players ranked inside tennis’s top 10 rankings for the first time in the history of the sport. Serena Williams, the multi-Grand Slam champion, is currently the United States’ lone representative in the sport’s elite, but, having sat on the sidelines since July after severely injuring her foot, next week will see the younger Williams slide off the WTA computer’s top 10 players.
On the men’s side of things, Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick (the last American male to win a Grand Slam when he won the US Open in 2003), are sitting just outside the top 10, but still represent a decline in the longevity of what was once one of the sport’s most powerful nations.
A report by Bloomberg suggests that with so many other sports on offer to the modern child, the United States Tennis Association are struggling to get talented youngsters to play tennis rather than soccer, basketball and many more. “Our best athletes aren’t playing tennis,” Max Eisenbud, Maria Sharapova’s agent, told Bloomberg. “There are so many different opportunities. When you are an American kid, you can play sports, you can become a singer, you can become an actor, or dancer, or go to school and become a doctor. If you are a great athlete, you can be in the WNBA, women’s soccer.”
By contrast, it is argued that the constantly increasing flow of tennis players from nations such as Russia, Serbia, Poland, the Czech Republic, is often down to fledgling stars being presented with tennis as a fait accompli, their only opportunity to excel in sport.
The flipside of the argument is that whereas once the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport effectively ‘cleaned up’ at the major tennis tournaments, tennis has since become a far more international game, and thus more popular as a result. There have been 30 different nations represented in the WTA’s top 60, while the sport is developing at a rate of knots in countries hitherto not known for their tennis background. Denmark for example, or Latvia.
“The WTA has a fantastic mix of established champions and rising stars in the game today, many of whom are very popular in the U.S. and transcend geographic boundaries,” Stacey Allaster, chairman and chief executive officer of the WTA Tour, told Bloomberg sports reporter Danielle Rossingh.
With young Americans such as Ryan Harrison and Christina McHale touted as future prospects, whether American tennis’s current dip in fortunes is merely a blip, a gap in the talent pool, or whether it is symptomatic of a deeper problem among the wealthier nations in the sport (Britain and Australia have experienced similar declines), remains to be seen.