Want to watch American men shine? Try U.S. Open doubles

Posted Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton First held 132 years ago, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships begin again Monday, which means we’re certain to hear American Andy Roddick’s name a lot over the next two weeks.

One problem with that, though: Roddick retired a year ago.

Any mentions of the 2003 champ will likely be uttered longingly, as in, “Sure wish (pick one) — Roddick, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Stan Smith? — was still here.”

Alas, there is no Roddick-in-waiting. No budding American Federer. On Monday, the highest-ranked U.S. men’s player will be John Isner, who rose fortuitously in the most recent rankings to 14th.

Haven’t seen that in the TV promos — “We’re No. 14 ... Only CBS!”

Between the CBS/Time-Warner dispute and the scarcity of high-seeded U.S. names, the Open could be in for an odd fortnight. Oh, it’s still a Grand Slam event in nearly every other way. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are poised invitingly at opposite ends of the bracket.

But to many U.S. tennis fans, it’s going to be like the rowdy pool party at the end of the block, the one you can hear but you’re not invited to.

John Isner? Nice guy. Tall, listed at 6-foot-10. Grew up in Greensboro, N.C. Played four years at the University of Georgia. His best career Grand Slam finish was two years ago in Flushing Meadows when he reached the quarterfinals.

Did I mention he was very tall?

The next highest ranked American in the men’s singles draw is Sam Querrey, who’s No. 29.

In other words, expect to see unprecedented, exhaustive CBS coverage of that country club staple, the men’s doubles, starring the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike. The Bryans, who grew up in Camarillo, Calif., and went to Stanford, have won the doubles four of the past eight years.

Doubles at a Grand Slam tennis event, if you’ve never watched, requires super-human fast-twitch reaction muscles, and matching eyeballs to follow it. The Bryans, like Spock, seem to play it in a Vulcan mind meld.

But that isn’t helping the American men’s singles drought. When Roddick, at age 30, decided at last year’s U.S. Open that he didn’t want to go through the grind anymore — he had earned more than $20 million in prize money — there was no one to pass the torch to.

The latest “future of American men’s tennis,” 20-year-old Jack Sock and 21-year-old Ryan Harrison, are 87th and 97th, respectively, in the latest ATP rankings.

The tired argument about our most athletic American males turning their Abercrombie-draped backs to tennis and focusing on football, baseball and basketball remains somewhat true. Anybody else think Michael Jordan could have been a great tennis player?

The often-cited, other lingering reason for the American void, however, is the game’s relative disappearance on the U.S. college scene. Though 266 Division I colleges and universities field a men’s tennis team, many of those rosters are populated these days with foreign names.

U.S. kids should be having a better shot at U.S. college scholarships. It’s essential for the development of the sport.

If NCAA tennis coaches offered a more welcoming environment for American high school players, maybe more of them would avoid the temptation to turn professional too early.

That may not increase their eventual chances for making the U.S. Open draw, but a few years of maturing — emotionally and athletically — in college couldn’t hurt.

Clearly, we were spoiled. After McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, there was Sampras and Agassi and Jim Courier and Michael Chang.

There was always someone to watch, someone to carry the American flag over these two weeks.

We don’t have “underachieving” Andy Roddick to complain about anymore.

I’m betting we miss him.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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