Carlisle: John McEnroe on America’s lack of Grand Slam contenders in men’s tennis

Jun 21 2013 - 3:07pm

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As ESPN prepares to broadcast its second exclusive Wimbledon starting Monday, it's a good time to look at the state of American tennis. U.S. men's tennis, in particular, has taken a lot of criticism in recent years for not having anyone close to challenging for a Grand Slam title.

John McEnroe, who will once again be an analyst for the network, says that, in the late 20th century, Americans became accustomed to having countrymen in Grand Slam finalists.

''Certainly we had a lot of success in the past, (and) probably became pretty spoiled," McEnroe said. "Clearly, Americans have come to expect and want Grand Slam contenders and winners. We've had some excellent players. Sam Querrey has been a solid professional, very solid. John Isner got to (No.) 10 in the world. Mardy Fish got to the top 10 before it overwhelmed him. If you want to compete and win majors at this stage, the athleticism necessary is becoming even more exceptional. That's something we have to try to search out and provide the opportunity for kids that don't have it. That's the biggest thing."

McEnroe said tennis doesn't draw the nation's best male athletes.

''Unlike women or girls, I believe girls are much more likely to play tennis than boys," he said. "The greatest American athletes played football or basketball. We're lower down on the totem pole. We need to do something like that. Unless you get a guy like John Isner, 6-foot-10, (with) one of the biggest serves ever. Therefore, he can be a threat to anyone."

There are up-and-comers in U.S. men's tennis, McEnroe said, but all of them have a long way to go.

''To go all the way in a major, you need a combination of things," McEnroe said. "That's what we need to push toward. That's a whole other discussion. But we're certainly not where we want to be, no doubt about that. Ryan Harrison is a solid pro. He's trying to make headway. Jack Sock is athletically good, but you have to be incredible.

''We'll have to wait and see what happens, the next five, 10 years, how we veer toward better and better athletes in our sport."

McEnroe also said today's players lack the personality and charisma he and Jimmy Connors had during their rivalry.

''None of these guys are out there doing the things that Connors and I were doing," McEnroe said. "That's the way they are. They choose to do it in a different way, and that's perfectly acceptable because there's a variety of reasons.

''We need to do more to make people have a rooting interest, get to know the players a little more, do a better job promoting them, et cetera."

ESPN analyst Chris Evert said American women are in a better spot globally than men.

''On the women's side, I think we have 10 in the top 100," Evert said. "That's more than any other country in the world. That was at the French (Open). That's a big statement for some of the critics that have been criticizing American tennis, the USTA, whatever.

''We've got a good stable of players. We're not even naming Jamie Hampton, Melanie Oudin, Alison Riske. There's a lot of girls I see down in Boca Raton at the USTA center hammering it out every afternoon. They're playing matches and matches, competing against each other, getting better and better as a result.

''I think it's a good time for American women's tennis. I think now people can kind of be quiet about their criticism of American tennis because things are definitely starting to happen, pretty exciting things."

 

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