Once dominant in the sport, the US seems to have lost its love for tennis.
American tennis a victim of its own success
Andy Roddick is rather tired of the question: What's wrong with American tennis?
When an Italian reporter raised the subject at a tournament in Rome last week, Roddick replied wryly: "No bigger crisis than Italian tennis."
A little later, Roddick said: "As far as harping on American tennis, I think we're kind of a victim of our own success over the years in the sport. If you still stack us up against most countries, we're coming out ahead."
To Roddick's point, the Americans' wait for a male champion at a major is nothing compared to what some others are enduring: Andy Murray has lost three major finals in his bid to become the first British man since 1936 to win a grand slam title.
But it is also true that the US has reached a low point in the sport. Not merely because the country no longer churns out new champions, but also because it is not really relevant at the top of the game right now.
Earlier this month, for the first time in more than 35 years of computerised rankings, no player from the US appeared in the men's or women's top 10. The last American man to win a grand slam singles title was Roddick, at the 2003 US Open - 29 major tournaments ago.
If that drought continues at the French Open, which starts today, the gap will equal the longest in history for US men. They were shut out of 30 straight grand slam titles from 1955-63.
Roddick withdrew from the French Open last week, citing a right-shoulder injury. That leaves the tournament without the three most significant active singles players from the United States, because sisters Serena and Venus Williams pulled out earlier.
The recent US problems are a stark change for a nation that has produced players such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, Don Budge, Bill Tilden, Lindsay Davenport, Tracy Austin, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King, to name only some.
"We're so used to having champions for the last, oh, century," said Venus Williams, owner of seven major singles titles. "Right now is something we're not used to."
Roddick and the rest of the American men have been forced recently to deal with the same obstacle everyone else has for the past several years: the consistent excellence of a couple of guys from Switzerland (Roger Federer) and Spain (Rafael Nadal), who account for 24 of the 29 grand slam men's singles titles since Roddick's victory in New York.
The others have gone to Serbia (two to Novak Djokovic, whose Australian Open championship in January is part of his 37-0 record heading into the French Open), Argentina (Juan Martin del Potro and Gaston Gaudio) and Russia (Marat Safin). Roddick has played in four grand slam finals from 2004-09, but lost each to Federer.
In this week's rankings, there's only one US man or woman in the top 10: Mardy Fish, who is No 10 in the men's list. The top American women are Serena Williams at 17th, and Venus Williams at 29th as neither has played in months. Bethanie Mattek-Sands is next at 36th.
There are nine US men in the top 100, the same number as Germany and France - and five fewer than Spain, a country with a population about one-sixth that of the United States.
"The game got so global just in the past 10, 15 years," said Sampras, who won 14 grand slam titles and finished No 1 in the rankings a record six years in a row. "Tennis in America has slowed down. It's not as dominant.
"It doesn't make me feel sad or angry. It's just a reality check.
"We're fine. We have some good young players. But they're not grand slam winners and they're not No 1 in the world, so it might take some time."
Top three to watch at the French Open
The top-ranked player from Spain has a 38-1 record at Roland Garros. The 24 year old, above, has won nine majors, and can equal Bjorn Borg’s record of six French titles this year.
His 37-0 record in 2011 is the best start to a season on the men’s tour since John McEnroe began 42-0 in 1984. Djokovic, 23, is 7-0 against Nadal and Roger Federer.
The 29 year old from Switzerland owns a record 16 grand slam singles titles but is now in longest stretch without one since he won his first at Wimbledon in 2003.
Ranked No 1, the 20 year old from Denmark has won three titles this year and 15 overall, but has yet to win a major. Her best finish in a major was the final of the 2009 US Open.
The 27 year old from Belgium has won four majors, including the last two, the 2010 US Open and the 2011 Australian Open. Ranked No 2 in the world, she decided to enter French Open despite recent injuries.
She has won three majors, but none since the Australian Open in 2008. She won the Italian Open title on clay for her first title this season is seventh in the rankings, her highest spot since 2008.
French Open facts
Site: Roland Garros in Paris.
Surface: Clay courts.
Schedule: The 15-day tournament begins today. The women’s final is June 4; the men’s final is June 5.
2010 men’s champion: Rafael Nadal, Spain.
2010 women’s champion: Francesca Schiavone, Italy.
Prize money: £17.5 million (about US$28m), with £1.2 million each to the men’s and women’s champions.
* Associated Press