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Can we call that progress?

AFP photo

For a day, U.S. men were relevant. And in Paris, that’s some progress, right?

There we had John Isner up two sets to one against Rafael Nadal, who, before Novak Djokovic stopped losing, was the god of clay court.

The world was astounded. We all watched and wondered, Would this be the day Nadal’s confidence flat-lined and his game followed?

Isner. An American. A set away from knocking off Nadal, a Spaniard and one of the all-time greats on clay, in the first round. One of the biggest upsets in French Open history, one set away.

Then, as you know, Nadal exhausted Isner, who lost the next two sets 2-6, 4-6.

Progress? I’d say so. Even though it was a first-round stumble, Isner built on his best French Open showing in 2010 when he lost in the third round.

And there, not too far away, we had Ryan Harrison showing some spunk again, stealing a set from the fifth-seeded Robin Soderling.

Would both Harrison and Isner be moving on, shoving two of the best clay players in the game to the stands?

Harrison, the 20-year-old American playing in his first French Open and only his third major, tied at a set a piece against Soderling, the two-time French Open finalist.

Then Soderling won the next two sets 6-3, 7-5.

A step forward? Why not.

We saw Sam Querrey win his first ever French Open match, beating Philipp Kohlscreiber, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Then Querrey faced the deceptive Ivan Ljubicic and lost a close one, 6-7, 4-6, 4-6. (Ljubicic moved on again, taking out Fernando Verdasco in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6, 6-4.)

No confusing this outcome. This was legitimate good news for American tennis and for Querrey, who has struggled to get out of the first round of any Grand Slam, especially when playing on American men’s kryptonite – red clay.

(Andy Roddick, who’s had his best years at the French in 2009 and 2010, passed this year because of a bum shoulder.)

And Mardy Fish, now the top-ranked American man, survived until the third round but was outdone by Gilles Simon, 3-6, 4-6, 2-6. Still, despite the loss, Fish’s best showing yet in Paris.

Yeah, this might be an overly optimistic report of American men after one week of a major. The U.S. again has no men in the second round of the French Open. (For that matter, no women, either.)

But when in Paris and discussing American men’s tennis, it’s always been a stretch to find good news.

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