By Toni Headley
Toni Headley is a tennis expert who worked at ESPN for 10 years and has been a freelance writer there for the past 2 years. She also previously worked at CBS Sports and has covered every major tennis tournament in the world multiple times.
As we leave Indian Wells, California for the Sony Ericsson Open, I ask myself if this will be the last time we see Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, and James Blake playing here in Miami? With the slow decline of the Williams sisters, Roddick, and Blake due to injury and age, could we be witnessing the end of American tennis as we know it? All four players will be playing here in Miami, which starts in a little over a week.
Both sisters enjoy playing in Miami and have dominated their home tournament winning ten titles since 1998. They have contested eleven finals here in Miami, playing each other four times, once in the championship match, twice in the semifinals, and once in the quarterfinals.
Andy Roddick has had some success here in Miami, winning in 2004 and 2010. He also has reached the quarterfinals or better seven times since 2000. ARod is currently ranked #31, the lowest he has been in ten years. James Blake has made the quarterfinals twice here in Miami. He is currently ranked #62 and working his way back from injuries.
There are eight American men currently ranked in the top 100: Mardy Fish #8, John Isner #11, Andy Roddick #31, Donald Young #39, James Blake #62, Ryan Harrison #72, Ryan Sweeting #80, and Sam Querrey #85. Of the eight Americans in the top 100, only Andy Roddick has won a Grand Slam title (US Open in 2003), or even reached a Grand Slam final (Wimbledon 2004-05, 2009 US Open 2003, 2006).
There are eight American women ranked in the top 100 as well: Serena Williams #11, Christina McHale #35, Vania King #58, Bethanie Mattek-Sands #75, Varvara Lepchenko #82, Sloane Stephens #90, Jamie Hampton #99, and Irina Falconi #100. Venus Williams is currently ranked #136 because of illness (Sjogren’s Syndrome).
The women have fared much better than the men at the Grand Slams due in large part to the success of the Williams sisters, who have reached 30 Grand Slam finals. They have won 20 total Grand Slams. Venus has 7 Grand Slam titles and has reached 13 finals. Serena has 13 Grand Slam titles and has reached 17 finals.
Who will be our next American Grand Slam champion? Can the current crop of young players be the next Andy, Venus or Serena? It might be out of the question to find another Venus or Serena, but I do believe that the future of American tennis is bright. We have many good young prospects: John Isner 26, Sam Querrey 24, Ryan Sweeting 24, Donald Young 22, and Ryan Harrison 19 are the future of American tennis. I believe of the group, Isner and Harrison have the most potential to win a slam. Isner could ride his lethal serve to a title at Wimbledon in similar fashion to how Richard Krajicek and Goran Ivanisevic did. I like Harrison’s all round game and his fight. He just needs to control his temper on the court and put that energy into his game.
Christina McHale 19, Sloane Stephens 19, Irina Falconi 21, and Jamie Hampton 22 are all great young prospects. McHale has had a strong year so far. Her most impressive run was in the Fed Cup, where she won both of her singles matches dropping a grand total of five games. She is the best young prospect of the group. Her game reminds me of Justine Henin. McHale is small but tenacious on the court, with a good all round game. I also like Sloane Stephens. I believe she could challenge for Grand Slam titles in the future. She still needs to learn how to close matches out, but I think she still has plenty of time to grow (she is only 19).
There is definite hope for American tennis. I believe the USTA has done a good job under the leadership of Patrick McEnroe in developing a group of future tennis stars. Do not give up yet. Patience is a virtue. This youth wave will catch fire at some point.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.