Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"...but that was when I ruled the world..."

by Savannah

The refrain from Coldplay's new song, the title track from their soon to be released "Viva la Vida" ran through my head when I read this extraordinary article on the The Official Wimbledon Site I'm posting it in it's entirety. It stands on it's own.

USA and Oz: Empires in decline?
Monday, 9 June, 2008
Written by Ronald Atkin

Perhaps nothing has been more surprising at The Championships in recent years than the comparative decline of the English-speaking world in the men's singles competition.

Among Britons the decline can be summed up in a word: catastrophic. Seventy-two years have now passed since Fred Perry posted a ‘home’ victory on Centre Court, but the absence of winners from previously dominant nations like the United States and Australia is a dramatic indication that other countries have caught up, and sometimes surged past, the former giants of grass.

In the 22 years between the resumption of The Championships after World War II in 1946 and the advent of the Open era in 1968, the men's champion on 19 occasions was either American or Australian.

Even the beginning of the Open era suggested this trend would continue. But Rod Laver (1968-9) and John Newcombe (1970-1) actually represented the last great flourish for Australian tennis at Wimbledon. Since then, only Pat Cash in 1987 and Lleyton Hewitt in 2002 have been Australian-born singles champions.

Hewitt’s victory was the highlight of a mini-revival in Australian tennis. Pat Rafter had been runner-up in 2000 and 2001 prior to Hewitt’s win while Mark Philippoussis reached the final in 2003, only to become Roger Federer’s first final victim.

The Americans have enjoyed two spells of Open-era domination. Between 1972 and 1984, Stan Smith, Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe and John McEnroe all won Wimbledon titles. They would have been more successful except for the emergence of Bjorn Borg.

It was 1992 when Andre Agassi won his only Wimbledon, followed by Pete Sampras’ domination of the tournament — a seven times champion between 1993 and 2000.

There were other noteworthy Americans in the Sampras decade. Jim Courier was part of an all-American final in 1993 and Agassi contested the last all-American final, with Sampras in 1999.

Following Sampras, Andy Roddick, runner-up to Roger Federer in 2004 and 2005, has been the best performed American man and even he could only manage the quarter-finals in 2007.

Wimbledon is not the only Grand Slam to highlight the decline of the Australian and American men. Agassi (1999) is the only American champion of Roland Garros over the past 16 years, while no Australian since Laver in 1969 has lifted the French Open trophy.

This year there were no English-speaking players in the quarter-finals of Roland Garros in either the men or women’s draw.

The last home champion at the Australian Open remains Mark Edmondson in 1976. Americans have done much better at the US Open, thanks to the likes of Agassi, Sampras and Roddick, the last 11 years have seen a home-grown men's champion just three times.

It is an indication of the atrophy of tennis in these formerly great tennis nations that Hewitt and Roddick still represent their countries’ best hope.

Hewitt, the only Australian in the world's top 50, and Roddick, still one of the top ten, both have had recent injury concerns.

Hewitt has a persistent hip problem, while Roddick missed Roland Garros because of a problem with the shoulder of his serving arm.

The next generation looks hopeful for both countries. Donald Young, from the USA, won the Wimbledon boys' title last year while Australia’s Bernard Tomic became the youngest boys' Grand Slam winner with his victory at the Australian Open in 2008 — a tournament where his compatriot Jessica Moore also reached the junior final.

Tennis is littered with the names of junior wunderkinds who failed to convert potential into success. The USA and Australia will be hoping their next generation is not among them.

In the meantime they may have to endure a man from the Home Nations — Andy Murray — producing a Wimbledon challenge of note.


Cate said...

Once again, these juniors. The English-speaking juniors, specifically.

I mean no offense but -- NONE of them has lived up to the "label" the media gives them. "The next top player, the next world number one, the next Maria Sharapova, the next phenom." Like I said in my comment in my previous post (Donald Young and the Nadals), the last American top player I know is still Andy Roddick.

The juniors who have made sort of successful transitions to pro are Alize Cornet and Aggie Radwanska. At least they reach rounds past the 1st. For the guys, I'm not very familiar with the boy's tour then and now but the MOST successful of all (to me anyway) are Marat Safin and Roger Federer.

I was looking at the French Open boy's double draw at Wikipedia. Funny, almost ALL of the seeded pairs were ousted at the first round.

Mark said...

Strong work, as usual. I just finished reading Pete Sampras' autobiography and posted a review of it on my blog. Check it out if you like!