For decades, the American men had a commanding presence on center stage at Flushing Meadows. We saw John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors win nine championships between them. Then Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang contended for the title for a decade and a half. And there was Andy Roddick, who served his way to the crown in 2003.
But these days, the tournament revolves around international stars such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal (not playing this year because of a wrist injury) and Novak Djokovic, who have dominated the game and gained huge followings. The Americans, meanwhile, are no longer big shots, but long shots.
No American man has won the US Open -- or any Grand Slam -- since Roddick more than a decade ago. No American man has reached a Grand Slam final since Roddick at Wimbledon in 2009. Only one American man still playing has reached a major semifinal, and that player is 31-year-old Robby Ginepri, whose 2005 US Open final four appearance makes him the most accomplished Grand Slam performer on the men's tour.
"Say it again and again and again. It's got a nice tone to it," Ginepri said, smiling, at the Cincinnati Masters.
And Ginepri will not be in the US Open -- or at least, not straight in. Despite cutting his ranking from the 400s to almost 200 in the previous four months, he did not receive a wild card into the tournament and will have to play qualifying instead.
The American men's campaign will be led by U.S. No. 1 John Isner, who is ranked No. 15 and has been as high as No. 9. Although he has never gone further than the quarterfinals in 2011, Isner is known for playing his best tennis in U.S. events and can threaten anyone with his big-serving game.
In 2013, Isner's record in the United States (not counting Davis Cup) was 29-9 -- and just 9-13 elsewhere.
"I've always played well," he said of his performances during the US Open Series. "This year started off fantastic. I won Atlanta, but then I had a couple of hiccups in Washington and Toronto, which is very unlike me."
The 29-year-old followed up by reaching the third round of the Cincinnati Masters, holding two match points against former US Open champion Andy Murray. He knows that the big names will not want to see him in their section of the draw. "If I play the right way, I'm going to be tough to beat there," he said.
But Isner's tendency to play tight matches featuring tiebreakers and five-setters also means the majority of his contests can swing either way. German Philipp Kohlschreiber has ousted him at the previous two US Opens. So he is looking to take advantage of crowd support, this coming after he criticized spectators a year for rooting for his second-round opponent, Gael Monfils. Isner was also unhappy that his opening round at the Washington event this year wasn't on the stadium court.
"When I'm playing in the States, I want to play on center court; I want to have the crowd on my side," he said. "It's good, I guess, I'm the No.1 American."