Can the USA dethrone the Swiss champ and the Spanish fiend?
With Andre Agassi's final, tearful bow to the crowds at the 2006 U.S. Open, his retirement has raised questions about the future of USA tennis. The days of tennis greats Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang are gone. The women's side has been long dead, dominated by a score of Russian athletes. With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominating the Grand Slams, the US needs its players to step up. With aggressive serves, approaches and backcourt games, Andy Roddick and James Blake may be the only Americans who are future Open contenders. Federer knocked both of them out of the U.S. Open. Here's a quick look on the strengths US players need to use, and the weaknesses they need to suppress.
When he entered the pros as a top junior, the Kansas-native was hailed as a future American tennis hero. Even though he won the 2003 US Open, Roddick has struggled through coach changes, temper issues and just bad play. But the fiery server, only 24, looked sharp at the Open. Through in the six rounds leading up to his four set loss at the hands of Federer, Roddick played well, dispatching Lleyton Hewitt and Mikhail Youzhny. Although he ultimately lost to Federer in the finals, he showed flashes of determination and brilliance after losing the first set. Maybe having legend Jimmy Connors as his coach has started to fix his erratic game. Connors will definitely need to help Roddick work on his net game. In the final match, Roddick gave up a ridiculous 47 percent of his points at net. For a USA pro, that's unacceptable and needs to be fixed immediately. Roddick giving up points at the net wasn't the big deal; the fact that he repeatedly approached despite the mistakes is one that Connors cannot be happy with. Federer's unbelievable placement of the ball may have forced Roddick to come to net. And you would think Roddick's serve and forehand combination would keep anyone, including Federer, from breaking his serve. But Federer outclassed Roddick even in his serve. Roddick may be a top three player behind the likes of Nadal and Federer but he is certainly not better. But the young gun is only 24, so barring any major injuries, he still has at least six solid years to improve.
Blake's story has been amazing. After nearly dropping out of the world rankings because of injuries and family deaths, the 26 year old has come back to the court with newfound determination to be the number one American. Blake's game practically imitates Roddick's. He made many of the same mistakes Roddick made against Federer. Even his loyal New York fan base, the "J-Block", seemed to accept defeat after the second set. Blake's strength lies in his powerful baseline game; his ability to return deep shots with sheer power is his main weapon. Although his serve can be like a bullet, it is too inconsistent to rely on. Blake managed to nail only 59 percent of his first serves against Federer at the Open. And when that many points fall to the second serve, the results are horrible. He won less than half the points played with his second serve. Throughout the year, Blake has struggled in his return game. He barely uses his forehand to send the ball back down the line, giving his opponents too much time, too often to take the point into control. Even though Blake is one of the most physically fit players on the tour, he can't handle chasing down the ball back and forth for long. He needs to take control of the point when he returns serves, using his ability to place the ball well to force his opponent to move.
It may be a little harsh to talk about Blake and Roddick's failures against Federer. But the best way to improve is by improving against the best. Anyway, applaud the two of them. Here come the scrubs.
Ginepri, Fish & Co.
Why put Robbie Ginepri, Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent and Vince Spadea together? Injuries, careless, repeated mistakes and distractions have plagued the four since the start of their careers. Ginepri led the group this year with a rank of 21, but his flashy game didn't help him at the U.S. Open, losing a five-setter to Tommy Haas. And guess who Spadea lost to? Federer dispatched him in three easy sets. Fish similarly lost an easy match. Dent didn't even play because of injuries. The main problem for the four is the fact that their compatriots Blake and Roddick are the same age, and yet they are at a much higher level. Unless drastic changes are made in their commitment, fitness and mental games (count the number of racquet smashes from the four), the group is going nowhere. Maybe if Spadea stopped trying to rap in his free time he might actually win a few points.
Nitin Sukumar. Nitin's middle name is Antonio Gates. More »