American tennis takes another blow


New York, America, Part 1

The graphics rolled across the television screen as a prophecy.

In 1984, 33 American men reached the second round of the US Open. Ten years later, the number was cut in half to 16. It dwindled by more than half to just seven in 2004 and was down to just three last year.

There are no Americans in the ATP top 10, and it seems every major has reached an apocalyptic statistical moment for the American game. At each Slam, we are reminded that today isn't yesterday. During the first week of the year's final major, there was no real urgency surrounding any American player this year.

Sam Querrey and John Isner reached the third round, but it would be a surprise to see either by the middle of next week. And the players who had something to prove didn't last a week, either.

Donald Young entered the tournament having made the fourth-biggest jump in the rankings since year-end 2013, blew a 4-0 first-set lead to Blaz Kavcic and lost in straights. Jack Sock, seemingly distracted, pulled up lame in the fourth set against Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar and abruptly retired.

Once and for all, it is time to leave Young alone. Trapped by the "potential" label since his days as a junior prodigy, the truth is that Young isn't big enough, strong enough or gifted enough to project anything upon him on the pro tour. He is not wasted talent or an underachiever, but an undersized player in a land of giants who must work for everything he gains on a tennis court, who must fight for every point.

As competition increases, Young should receive the underdog's encouragement, not the ballast of a favorite.

Up close, it is easy to see why Sock is so tantalizing. He is a "little Roddick" with his backward hat, sizzling forehand, 133 mph serve and Nebraska roots. He's is a pitcher in love with his fastball, even in breaking-ball counts. At one point early against Andujar, he channeled his inner Gael Monfils, responding to a simple rally ball a few inches behind the baseline with a leaping forehand. The shot traveled 200 mph. It landed three rows into the seats.

Sock plays in a hurry and seems as enamored with the acoustics of tearing the cover off the ball as hitting a winner. A seasoned veteran aware that the only point that is more valuable than all the rest is the final one, Andujar waited him out, capitalized on his impetuousness, returned just enough to frustrate.

Late in the third set, Sock struggled with his right leg. He responded by trying to hit each ball seemingly 300 mph before smashing his racket, frustrated by the score and by his body breaking down. Finally, after three games in the fourth, Sock cracked, retiring even though his serve was still consistently 125 mph. Andujar shook hands, and that was that.

Around the grounds, whispers grew that Sock didn't really want to be out there, or at least didn't want to jeopardize his doubles possibilities. As Wimbledon champions, he and Canadian Vasek Pospisil entered the tournament with a very real chance of reaching the World Tour Finals in London. Whispers became louder when Sock retired against Andujar but did not pull out of doubles, and louder still when he and Pospisil won their first match in Flushing Meadows.

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