If you don’t know much about tennis – and even if you do – and you were asked to name the top men’s player in the United States, you might struggle. That’s because the days of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Andy Roddick are long gone.
And now? Now it feels like we have a void.
“Well, the reason it feels like a void is because there is a void,” former tennis pro and former United States Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “That’s just a fact. While there are solid players like (John) Isner – and (Sam) Querrey beating (Novak) Djokovic at Wimbledon was certainly a huge result for him – they’re not big, big-time players. That’s just the facts. So I’m hopeful, I’m cautiously optimistic, that we’ve got our best group of young teenagers that we’ve had in quite some time – a group of five or six 18-, 19-year-olds. I think a couple of them like Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe – and there’s a few others like Michael Mmoh, Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul – we’ve got five or six really top juniors, and now they’re making their ways into the pros. So I’m hopeful that we’re going to have a resurgence. But the fact is, tennis is dominated by the European countries for the most part.”
The reasons for that are many.
“No. 1, tennis is more popular in those countries,” McEnroe said. “It’s the second- or third-biggest sport in most of those countries, so that means they’re getting better kids playing tennis, better athletes playing tennis, the training is better at a young age. That’s something we tried to address in my years at the USTA, and they’re certainly still continuing to try to do that. But I think as a country – and again, I’m being general here and somewhat broad because there are a lot of great coaches in our country – but in general we fall behind in training. The rest of the world caught up and it’s become more popular in other parts of the world. So that’s something that’s still a work in progress. It’s not going to happen in two years or five years or even in 10 years. It could take 15 to 20 years. I think we’re starting to see some signs that it’s starting to turn around on the boys’ side.”
U.S. women’s tennis, meanwhile, is in considerably better shape than U.S. men’s tennis – even with Venus and Serena Williams in their mid-30s.
“On the girls’ side, the women’s side, we still have a lot of really, really good talented young players,” McEnroe said. “Not only Venus and Serena, but Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and Coco Vandeweghe. These are all potentially Grand Slam winners at some point. They’re not there yet, and we do have the most players in the top 100 that are female than any other country. So we’re not doing that poorly on the women’s side outside of Venus and Serena, but we certainly have a lot of work to do on the men’s side.”