On today, the start of the 2013 Australian Open, let us again examine the prospects of an American man doing something he has not done in 10 years: Win a Grand Slam.
It is a tired premise in which to begin, yes, but one worth asking in 2013 because of what happened to American men in 2012.
Andy Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open winner and the flag carrier for a decade, retired. Mardy Fish struggled with heart issues. And John Isner, No. 13 in the world, experienced pain in his right knee that led him to withdraw from this year’s first major.
Leading the most powerful country in the world, No. 20 seed, Sam Querrey. He is 25 years old, has a career record of 184-147 and had his best showing at the Australian Open in 2008 when he made it to the third round.
That’s the bad news.
The good: Querrey made it into the semifinals of a warm-up for Australia and has ascended up the rankings to No. 22, 71 spots higher than where he was this time last year.
So it could be worse.
At this point, however, no matter their ranking, it’s time Querrey and others snatched the flag and sprinted with it, even if they slip, stumble and chip their teeth all yearlong.
It’s time for the U.S. to move past the Roddick age, however frightening that might be in the near future. It’s time for players such as Querrey, Ryan Harrison and the resurgent Brian Baker to have their chance at the top of the American game and see how they like the view and if they can stay for dinner.
Let’s line them up, one by one, and see who fares the best in the Slams and tournaments without Roddick — for good — or Fish or Isner — in the near future — shielding them from the pressure of playing No. 1 singles in Davis Cup or being called the “highest-ranked American” in the field for the thousandth time.
That has to get old, and it’s time for somebody else to see how quickly that happens.
Think about this again: Roddick made five Grand Slam finals and was a semifinalist four times in his career. No American man playing professional tennis today has reached a Slam semifinal.
That’s not a bad thing — it just means the U.S. is due for a restart in men’s tennis, a chance to see how the younger players adapt.
American tennis has been here before — after Pete Sampras retired or Andre Agassi finally said goodbye — albeit the players coming up were more promising the outgoing leaders more successful.
But this is not completely new territory.
In any sport, when the standard-bearer departs and the young guns remain, there is a oh, no, feeling, and doubts abound.
But there’s also excitement and the possibility of what’s next.
That’s where American tennis is today, a day before the year’s first major.
And you know what? It could be worse.