No American men making a racket
Agassi retiring soon, but all's quiet on the tennis front
02:29 AM CDT on Monday, June 26, 2006
First he shocked us with long hair. Then he stunned us with no hair.
He had an earring. Then he gave Brooke Shields a wedding ring.
He won as a No. 1. Then he won unseeded.
There are a lot of things for which tennis great Andre Agassi, who announced Saturday that this will be his last season, will be remembered. The last, however, is likely to be ending an era.
Indeed, it is difficult to ignore that when Wimbledon commences today, it will have been six summers since an American man, Pete Sampras, won at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The longest Wimbledon drought by American men since the Open era began is an eight-year stretch between John McEnroe's last title in 1984 and Agassi's win in 1992.
And it will have been seven summers since two American men met in tennis's most-revered final. They were Sampras, whom Tennis magazine named the greatest men's player ever, and Agassi.
Sampras retired officially in 2003. That was also the last year an American man won one of tennis's four Grand Slam tournaments. Andy Roddick won that year's U.S. Open, and Agassi captured the Australian.
Since then, it's been Switzerland's Roger Federer with a little of Spain's Rafael Nadal mixed in on French clay this year and last, the Russian surprise Marat Safin in Australia in 2005 and the uprising of Argentine Gaston Gaudio at Roland Garros in 2004.
As a result, it appears as if Agassi may as well turn out the lights for American men's tennis when he departs the U.S. Open locker room for the last time in September.
This isn't the first time American men's tennis has looked as if it has been extinguished. Such was the case in the middle to late '80s when McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were winding down their careers.
But there were some up-and-coming youngsters on the scene then who promised to pick up shortly where McEnroe and Connors left off. Agassi and Sampras were among them, as was Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Todd Martin.
Chang was the first to break through, in France. Then Courier won at Australia and France before Agassi and Sampras began to imitate McEnroe and Connors with a world-tour rivalry of their own. American men just about dominated the world tennis stage during the '90s.
Where is the transfusion of American tennis testosterone today, though? Roddick will open play at Wimbledon ranked fifth in the world after finishing the last three seasons ranked in the top three. He's just 23. But so far he's garnered more magazine cover shots than Grand Slam titles.
James Blake is having a career year and is ranked seventh. But he's already 26.
Robby Ginepri, who was runner-up to Roddick at the U.S. Open juniors, is ranked 17.
The retiring Agassi is ranked 20th.
There are no more Americans in the top 50.
Agassi is the last of the bright American stars. Roddick has been but a flash on the horizon. He's been all style, which Agassi had plenty of, but little substance, save his big serve that a lot of his opponents seem to have caught up to.
It is unlikely that Roddick or Blake will brighten things over Wimbledon's fortnight. Wimbledon is Federer's to lose, and he hasn't lost a match on grass in four years. He's blown away Roddick in the last two Wimbledon finals. Blake may have a better shot given that he is coming off a finals' loss to Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the Wimbledon warm up at Queen's Club.
But if Federer is to be toppled, it is more likely to be by a player from somewhere up-and-coming youngsters abound. Nadal, who just beat Federer in the French final, just turned 20. The Croat Mario Ancic, who upset Federer in 2002 in Wimbledon's opening round, is 22. The Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who just turned 20 and has won one meeting with Federer, drew the defending champion to kick off Wimbledon today.
There is one American in the top 25 junior rankings. He is Donald Young. He is ranked fourth. His 17th birthday is next month. Last year he became the youngest player to win the Australian Open Junior Championships.
But Young, whom McEnroe said not long ago was the future of American tennis, is still a few years, several inches and lots of muscle away from being ready to compete with the best men on the international level.
So Agassi's departure will probably be the dawn of a dark age for American men.