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Tennis? Really?

As I watched Maria Sharapova out-grunt Heather Watson on her way to a first-round victory at the U.S. Open, I found myself asking a question: notwithstanding the issues surrounding my watching women’s tennis, why was I watching tennis at all?

United State tennis has been in a big slump. The last time a men’s player from the United States won a major was Andy Roddick’s U.S. Open victory in 2003. As of August 29, 2011, Mardy Fish is the only men’s player from the United Sates ranked in the top 10. There are no women from the United States ranked higher than 31, and although the top ranked women’s player in the world and I were born on the same day in 1990, I hardly think that anyone cares about these players.

What happened to the days of John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras, when the U.S. ruled the courts and many people actually paid attention to and were passionate about the world of tennis? When players from the United States visit tennis schools abroad, they find that their counterparts train harder and longer than their schools at home. Today our players are too slow and sloppy to be real threats.

John Isner’s 11-hour match at last year’s Wimbledon was exciting and garnered some interest in the world of tennis, but nothing else happened after that event. Isner has never been ranked higher than 18, and he and his epic match have been largely forgotten. If people in the United States will ever really follow tennis again, we’re going to need someone to get excited about.

Perhaps I am being overly critical of U.S. tennis players. After all, the United States has many professional sports to attract aspiring athletes. Nowhere in the world do they have leagues comparable to the NBA, MLB, NFL, PGA, or NHL. Each country has the sports on which they focus. In Germany, for example, most athletes strive to become football players, or as we Americans oddly call it, soccer players. To the best of my knowledge, Dirk Nowitzky is currently the only German player in the NBA. Basketball is not Germany’s sport. Perhaps the United States has spread itself thin by having so many sports, taking away athletes who would otherwise consider tennis. However, this excuse seems unconvincing, and my frustration with and embarrassment of American tennis remains.

So why was I watching the first round of the women’s U.S. Open? Nothing else was on TV.