Worst Wimbledon showing for U.S. men since 1912
By HOWARD FENDRICH
LONDON — What a stark statistic for the nation of Bill Tilden and Don Budge, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi: It’s been 101 years since no men from the United States reached Wimbledon’s third round.
And the last time it happened, way back in 1912, no Americans even entered the oldest Grand Slam tournament.
By the end of Thursday, all 11 U.S. men in the 2013 field at the All England Club were gone, with top-seeded Novak Djokovic accounting for the last one by beating 156th-ranked qualifier Bobby Reynolds 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-1. Earlier in the day, former top-five player James Blake lost to Bernard Tomic of Australia 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, while qualifier Denis Kudla was beaten by Ivan Dodig of Croatia 6-1, 7-6 (4), 7-5.
That trio joined 18th-seeded John Isner, 21st-seeded Sam Querrey, Ryan Harrison, Steve Johnson, Alex Kuznetsov, Wayne Odesnik, Rajeev Ram and Michael Russell on the way home.
“It’s a tough stat to hear, but I still believe, right now, where U.S. tennis is, not too many guys are in their prime. That’s why the numbers are like that. But a lot of guys are, maybe, in the tail end of their careers and a lot of guys are coming up,” said Kudla, a 20-year-old from Arlington, Va., who is ranked 105th. “Maybe next year, or the year after that, things could change. You have to go through a little bit of a struggle to get some success.”
Led by top-seeded and defending champion Serena Williams, the U.S. women still are represented in singles at Wimbledon this year.
Williams extended her winning streak to 33 matches, the longest on tour since 2000, by eliminating 100th-ranked qualifier Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 6-2, while 18-year-old Madison Keys knocked off 30th-seeded Mona Barthel of Germany 6-4, 6-2.
Keys next plays 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, and Williams goes from a 19-year-old opponent in Garcia to a 42-year-old opponent in Kimiko Date-Krumm, the oldest woman to reach the third round at Wimbledon since the Open era began in 1968.
“I have so much respect for her. I think she’s so inspiring to be playing such high-level tennis at her age,” said Williams, who at 31 is the oldest No. 1 in WTA rankings history. “And she’s a real danger on the grass court, I know that. I definitely will have to be ready.”
Already into the third round with a victory a day earlier was No. 17 Sloane Stephens, while yet another American, wild-card entry Alison Riske, had her match against Urszula Radwanska — Agnieszka’s younger sister — postponed by rain Thursday.
“I can’t put my finger on why the women are doing better than the men,” Reynolds said.
He wound up facing Djokovic with Centre Court’s retractable roof closed because of the first drizzles of the fortnight, which prevented five singles matches from starting and forced the suspensions of three others in progress.
The precipitation wasn’t the only change Day 4 brought. After the chaos of Wednesday, when Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova were among seven former No. 1s who lost, results went mostly to form Thursday. Only one seeded man departed: No. 17 Milos Raonic of Canada, who was beaten 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (4) by 64th-ranked Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands.
There were, however, two more injury-related exits, raising the total of players pulling out of the second round to nine, which equals the Open era Grand Slam record for any round. All told, 12 players have withdrawn before a match or stopped during one, one short of the Wimbledon record for a full tournament, set in 2008.
“It was a bit strange to see so many top players either lost or retired,” Djokovic said. “But grass is a very special surface. It requires a different kind of movement. … If grass at the start of Wimbledon is still not so used and, I guess, a little bit slippery, it can be dangerous, until you really get your right footing on the court. That’s probably the reason why they all felt uncomfortable and they all injured themselves, unfortunately.”
Djokovic himself took a tumble midway through his tight first set against Reynolds, a 30-year-old based in Atlanta, then quickly rose and whacked his heels with his racket. About 25 minutes later, Reynolds hit a 122 mph service winner to hold for 6-all, and the crowd roared, eager to see whether this guy they’d never heard of could continue to push Djokovic, who is ranked No. 1 and owns six major titles, including at Wimbledon in 2011.
But from there, it wasn’t close. Reynolds missed two forehands early in the tiebreaker, helping Djokovic take a 5-0 lead before ending the set with a 117 mph ace.
“He just puts so much pressure on you, point after point after point,” Reynolds said. “He moves unbelievably well. … You think you hit a good shot, but he’s right there, crushing it back at you.”
Reynolds was, in many ways, simply happy to be there, on his sport’s most famous court, facing one of its best players.
“You can’t put a price tag on it,” said Reynolds, who went five years between Grand Slam match wins. “I’ll keep so many memories from that match. I loved it. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
One shot Reynolds most definitely will recall, ruefully, came while leading 1-0 in the second set. Up love-30 on Djokovic’s serve, Reynolds lost track of the ball and sent an overhead long.
“It went in between the rafters, and then you see it, and then it hits the piping, and then it comes back out. I just mistimed it,” said Reynolds, who never had break points, while Djokovic converted 4 of 18. “I guess it’s lack of being in there, the surroundings.”
And so, at 7:43 p.m. local time, Djokovic deposited a backhand volley winner, the last shot hit against a U.S. man at Wimbledon this year.
With 27 of 32 third-round spots in men’s singles settled, 18 countries are represented, including Latvia, Ukraine, Croatia and South Africa. Five countries have multiple entrants left, led by four each for Spain and France.
“I’m looking just to see if I can get to the next round. That’s basically what it is. I don’t feel like I’m carrying the U.S. flag (or) ‘I’m the lone guy left,’” Reynolds said. “I actually wasn’t aware of it at all.”
American men have won Wimbledon more than 30 times. Maurice McLoughlin did it in 1913, followed by Tilden in 1920, then Budge and Bobby Riggs in the 1930s, all the way through to players such as Connors, McEnroe and Arthur Ashe in the 1970s and 1980s.
During the nine-tournament stretch from 1992 to 2000, a U.S. man won Wimbledon eight times (seven for Sampras, one for Agassi), and there was at least one — and sometimes two — in the final each year. More recently, Andy Roddick reached three finals from 2004-09, losing to Federer every time.
As it is, American men are going through their longest drought without a Grand Slam champion anywhere; this year’s U.S. Open will mark exactly a decade since Roddick won the title there. That, at least, can be partly explained by this: Switzerland’s Federer, Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Serbia’s Djokovic collected 31 of the last 33 major trophies.
But what happened at Wimbledon this week shows U.S. problems extend far below the top tier.
Reynolds offered some thoughts, including that kids are picking other sports, perhaps because of the high cost of tennis. He also believes there’s simply more competition from elsewhere.
“You look back years ago, the Americans usually were very good, whether it’s basketball or baseball or tennis. Sports are becoming such a worldwide thing that everybody is so good now. … We’re so used to looking back and saying, ‘Oh, look at all the dominance,’” Reynolds said.
“Every country has top guys playing tennis,” he said. “I think that’s more of what it is, rather than the lack of talent coming out of the States.”
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