For the first time in a few years American fans must be feeling very confident about the men’s side of the draw at their home Slam beginning in New York on Monday.
While Serena’s absence means home hopes will be firmly lodged behind older sister Venus in the women’s game, for the first time in a few years American dreams will be spread amongst a small band of merry brothers hoping to hoist the red, white and blue flag high above Flushing Meadows come the conclusion of finals day.
Even the most pessimistic of American tennis fans would be hard pushed to disagree that there are five men capable of pushing deep in to the draw and giving the country something to shout about. It’s not certain of course, form and injury permitting, but it is possible.
At 27, Andy Roddick should be at the peak of his powers. The 2003 Champion is the only American to have lifted the US Open since Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras used to fight tooth and nail over the hallowed trophy.
Last year he fought out on of the toughest Wimbledon finals in recent memory before finally succumbing to the powers of Roger Federer but this year his form has been somewhat erratic and following his Washington defeat to Gilles Simon he dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in 2006, meaning there was no American in the top 10 rankings for the first time since their inception.
His diagnosis with mononucleosis seemed like his end to 2010 was going to be hugely disappointing. But then A-Rod did what he does best and stopped the critics jabbering.
At Cincy last week he defeated plucky Swede Robin Soderling as well as world No. 3 Novak Djokovic. He was serving for the semifinal against Mardy Fish before having a trademark wobble and losing the tie 6-4, 6-7(3), 1-6.
But the earlier performances will buoy a man who is getting over an illness which causes lethargy and nausea. Only a cold-hearted hermit would fail to be warmed and rallied by the cheers of a home crowd and a country as proud of their own as the US of A will undoubtedly be throwing the weight of their voices behind a man they have been praying will repeat that 2003 triumph for the past 7 years.
However his draw isn’t the easiest. A second round against Janko Tipsarevic or Olivier Rochus won’t be easy and then he has the possibility of Gael Monfils or Igor Andreev to come.
And what of that Cincinnati semifinal victor Mardy Fish? Right now the man is the hottest property on the ATP Tour and the name on most people’s lips. He pushed Federer all the way in the Cincy final and only a year ago, maybe even six months ago, that would have been unthinkable.
His recent performances have seen a huge progression in his ATP ranking and he is the hottest man along with David Nalbandian and Marcos Baghdatis entering Flushing Meadows.
Jan Hajek shouldn’t pose too many problems in round one for the number 19 seed and the opposition doesn’t look too tough from then on either. Fish and Roddick could even meet at the quarter finals stage if all goes well for both men.
Fish has only once reached that mark here in 2008 but on current form who would bet against him repeating that in 2010? He looks a very good outside bet for the betting man to possibly earn a semifinal berth.
Then of course there are the two young men who not so long ago were being touted as future stars of this sport.
In the summer of 2009 the future looked very rosy for Sam Querrey. He reached three ATP Tour finals in a row, losing to compatriot Rajeev Ram in Newport, another American Robby Ginepri at Indianapolis before breaking that streak by defeating the Aussie Carston Ball at the LA Open.
Despite a run-in with a glass table that nearly ended his career in the autumn Querrey finished the year at a career-high world No. 25 and was tipped to fly in to the top 20 during 2010.
A first-round Aussie Open defeat to Rainer Schuttler wasn’t exactly the best start to the year. A run of early defeats followed before he reached the final of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in April where he lost to Argentine clay specialist Juan Ignacio Chela.
After losing the first round in France to that man Ginepri again he began complaining of mental troubles and claimed that he had “fallen out of love” with tennis in an Andy Murray-style full on collywobbler. However, come Queens he’s turned it around again and after beating Fish in the final, his first title on grass and third in 2010, he became the only player this year to win titles on three surfaces.
He then defeated Murray in the final of the LA Open to hold on to his title and so things are looking slightly rosier again for the world No. 22 and the No. 20 seed next week.
Chela lurks in his quarter of the draw but other than him the names don’t look like they will pose too much of a threat before the later stages.
Finally we have the massive John Isner. The 6 ft. 9 North Carolinian is the current world No. 20 and has never progressed past the fourth round of a Slam reaching that mark here last year and back in the Australian Open in January.
He started the year brilliantly by winning his first tournament, the Heineken Open in Aukland, before that Aussie Open result. He fought valiantly during the USA’s 2-3 defeat to Serbia in the first round of Davis Cup World Group Stage play before a few disappointing showings.
At the Serbian Open he reached the final after wins over Josselin Ouanna, Richard Gasquet and Stanlislas Wawrinka but doubles partner and good friend Querrey pipped him to the title on this occasion.
He made history at Wimbledon of course with that mammoth matchup with Nicolas Mahut but we have heard very little from him since. Perhaps he is still recovering? Shoulder injuries have been troubling him and there are still a few doubts as to whether he will make next week, but he strenuously denies these.
Perhaps the least likely to progress deep in to the draw due to form and injury concerns. His first two rounds should be straightforward but then he may begin meeting the likes of Radek Stepanek, Julien Benneteau, Tommy Robredo, Victor Hanescu or the No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych and this is where, on current form, you would fancy him to fall.
There are, of course, a large spattering of Americans throughout the rest of the draw but the serious money will be on these five. However the home players do this is shaping up to be a great tournament once more full of enough thrills and spills to outlast any Hollywood Blockbuster.