x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

American nightmare continues for tennis fans as Roddick exits in Florida

As Venus, Serena and Roddick get older, Paul Oberjuerge laments lack of any emerging talent in country.

When Andy Roddick went out in the first round of the Sony Ericsson Open in Florida, a tournament already bereft of the Williams sisters, a look at what was left in the singles draw had to be alarming for American tennis nationalists.

Not one player in the women's last 16. Only two men, long-shots Mardy Fish and John Isner.

Pundits for years have been predicting the collapse of American tennis, but it may finally be here.

Roddick will drop to No 15 in the world now that he cannot defend his title in Florida, marking the second time in five months that the men's top 10 has not included an American — which previously had never happened since rankings began in 1973.

Serena Williams is out indefinitely with complications from a cut on her foot, and Venus Williams is a week-to-week participant, depending on her various leg injuries. She will drop from No 9, meaning that the most successful tennis nation in the world, as measured by grand slam victories, will have zero top-10 players of either gender, come Monday.

And none of the final three elite US players are young, by athletic standards. Roddick is 28, Serena 29 and Venus 30.

The lack of exciting players behind them is what alarms US tennis fans. Fish, 29, is No 15 among the men, but "exciting" and "Mardy Fish" rarely are found in the same sentence. Sam Querrey, 23, is ranked No 21 and won four tournaments last year, and is the best US hope. Isner is No 33; no other US male is in the top 80.

Things are grimmer on the women's side. After the Williams sisters, the top-ranked Yank is Bethanie Mattek-Sands, at No 43.

Then it is more free-fall to Melanie Oudin at 75. The one player thought to have much "up side" is Coco Vandeweghe, ranked No 90 at age 19. But her ceiling looks more like top 20 than top 10.

What is behind the American decline? Pam Shriver, the television analyst and former player, blames poor coaching at the youth level.

Others suggest that US players lack a financial imperative to succeed, as do players from eastern Europe, and are soft. Though why this should be critical now when it wasn't 20 years ago, when the US was even wealthier, is unclear.

The good news for the game of tennis: it has become so internationalised that many American fans will hardly notice the lack of their compatriots on the court for big matches.

The language of the sport is English, making players from all over the world accessible, and US fans, like British fans before them, apparently will still buy tickets to see the best players, even if none of them are from their country.