american men crash in french open

Posted on May 29, 2007

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What is it about the clay at Roland Garros that is causing US tennis players to falter so embarassingly?

Andy Roddick, who showed signs of turning his stalled career around when he hired Jimmy Connors as his coach last year, has yet again crashed out of the first round of the French Open. This is the world number three’s second straight first set exit, and the fourth in six years, according to stats by ESPN.

Well, maybe winning the French Open was too much of a stretch for Roddick anyway — coach Conners had never won the French title either.

Another American hope, world number eight James Blake, also got the early boot.

In fact, eight out of nine American men entered in the Open are heading home early. The only American man left on the draw is Robby Ginepri, a 48th rank player, whose chances of advancing much further seems bleak too.

Andre Agassi was the last male American winner in Paris and that was back in 1999.

That means the women, such as Venus and Serena Williams are left carrying the flag. And clay happens to be their weakest surface too.

So why is it that the clay courts, generally acknowledged as the most physically demanding surface, spell so much trouble for Roddick and the other American men?

Roddick’s big serves don’t make much difference for him on clay. His coach says his game is better suited to faster surfaces like grass.

Perhaps the nub of the issue is mental. Roddick’s game isn’t honed towards besting others in clay, even if he had won in other clay court tournaments before. Roddick does not play long points well, nor does he race around the court much, two essential characteristics of playing on clay.

Former multiple French Open champion Chris Evert had another point of view on American weakness on clay. She believes it’s a matter of comfort, as most Americans are brought up playing on hardcourts, while Europeans are familiar with playing on clay. Makes sense, except why is it so hard for Roger Federer to win the French Open, since he’s Swiss?

While the American men languish, the general slate of female players have been dismal. Many drop out because of injury or just drop out altogether (hello Kim Clijsters). Others just don’t have it together mentally, faltering most when it matters, during the big games. So it seems like a constant shuffle of female competitors in the game, with one being almost interchangeable from the other, and none making deep impressions.

Three-time French Open crown winner Justine Henin is the favorite to win here, simply because there isn’t anyone strong enough, especially mentally, to take her on. Serena Williams might be the most talented, but she has only played a few matches this season, and does not seem prepared enough to beat Henin.

If only there were more fantastic rivalries in the women’s field like the Federer-Nadal rivalry. That would make watching the game that much more interesting.

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Posted in: french open, sports, tennis, US