June 2, 2008

Americans in Paris

The unmistakable red clay of the French Open

This year's French Open once again requires the same question: Why do male American tennis players suck on the red clay of Roland Garros?

The History
The last American male to win was Agassi in 1999. Chang lost in the final in '95, and Courier did the same in '93. Courier won in '91 and '92, and Chang won in '89. Going back as far as 1960, no other American has won. Sampras, McEnroe, and Connors never won on the clay in Paris, and Sampras never even made the final. Last year the American men were a combined 0-9 in Paris, and while things weren't that bad this year, I find it hard to muster optimism.

She only wears the catsuit at the US Open, just google for a hot picture already.

As comparison, Serena and Capriati have both won in Paris since 2000, and Chris Evert won there a lot in her prime. Billie Jean King also had no trouble there.

Roddick and Sampras are easy to explain. Both depend on overwhelming serves to give them a lot of easy points. The slower clay surface makes it easier for the opponent to return serve, neutralizing the American's biggest strength. None of Agassi, Courier, and Chang depended on huge serves, supporting this explanation. In the same way, none of the American women depended on their serve for dominance.

James Blake is an enigma. Ultra-talented, he just doesn't seem to have the mental side of the game down. However, his struggles are not limited to the French Open in any respect, so we'll ignore his issues.

No other American has been good enough to win a grand slam event the last 20 years. (Yes, I remember Mal Washington, and no he wasn't good enough.)

Jimmy Connors, with a really old racket

Before that, I think you just have to credit the other quality players who were just better on clay, in the same way that the slower surface makes Rafa just slightly better than Federer. Lendl and Borg were awesome at the French Open during the primes of McEnroe and Connors. In addition, Connors appears to have had the opposite problem from Sampras and Roddick on clay. Connors depended on his opponent's pace, but the clay slowed his opponent's shots, forcing him to try to hit the ball harder than normal.

In my opinion, Americans don't mysteriously tank in Paris. The slower clay has worked against the styles of certain players, but allowed others to excel (Chang's only major was the French). The truth is that there aren't very many good American men's tennis players right now, and that's reflected in their performance in Paris. Some of them can hit the ball pretty hard, but none have the complete, patient game required on clay.

1 Responses:

J-Red said...

Having played tennis competitively all through high school, I can say that I've never played on clay or grass. Americans seem to do well on grass because it favors serve and volley, but clay requires a different style of play. The players who rise to the top of American tennis are likely to be baseliners or serve and volleyers. Neither really translate as well to clay as they do hard court and grass.

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