Saturday, August 17, 2013

U.S. men record dubious first; adieu, Marion

John Isner, the top-ranked American man, fell out
of the top 20 this week but will return on Monday.
He'll face Rafael Nadal in Sunday's Cincinnati final.
2012 photo by Paul Bauman
   The unthinkable happened this week.
   For the first time in the 40-year history of the men's world rankings, no American man can be found in the top 20. The top U.S. man, 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) John Isner, dropped from No. 20 to No. 22 on Monday.
   Andy Roddick, who retired last September after leading U.S. men's tennis for most of the previous 10 years, recently lamented the decline.
   "Throwing out statistics, like it's the first time since such-and-such, is fair journalism," Roddick, who won the 2003 U.S. Open for the last Grand Slam singles title by an American man, was quoted as saying in the New York Times. "That's a fact. I think I'm more concerned with what's going to happen to make it right and make it better. The other thing that seems painfully obvious when you say stuff like that is how spoiled we've been."
  Roddick was referring to International Tennis Hall of Famers Pete Sampras (14 Grand Slam singles titles), Jimmy Connors (eight), Andre Agassi (eight), Jim Courier (four) and Michael Chang (one) and himself.
   All is not lost for the United States, however. Far from it.
   Isner, whose devastating serve is the biggest weapon in men's tennis, will return to the top 20 on Monday. He has beaten three consecutive top-10 players -- No. 10 Milos Raonic of Canada, No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 7 Juan Martin del Potro (saving one match point) -- to reach Sunday's final in Cincinnati against third-ranked Rafael Nadal (CBS, 9:30 a.m. PDT).
   That makes Isner a threat to win the U.S. Open, Aug. 26-Sept. 9. The questions are whether the 28-year-old native of Greensboro, N.C., can hold up physically over two weeks of best-of-five-set matches and handle the pressure of playing in his home country.
   Isner has never advanced past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament, but six years after winning a $15,000 tournament in the Sacramento suburb of Shingle Springs in his professional debut, this could be his time. He reached the quarters of the 2011 U.S. Open.
   The next American in the rankings, Sam Querrey, is No. 28 after reaching a career-high No. 17 in 2011. The 25-year-old San Francisco native, 6-foot-6 (1.96 meters), has played part-time for the Sacramento Capitals of World TeamTennis for the past two seasons.
   The United States' top prospects appear to be Jack Sock, ranked a career-high No. 87 at 20 years old, and Ryan Harrison, ranked No. 102 at 21 years old.
   Sock won the 2011 U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin two weeks after turning 19 and the singles crown at the Tiburon Challenger in the San Francisco Bay area last October. Harrison climbed as high as No. 43 in the world last summer.
   Then there are Bob and Mike Bryan, widely regarded as the greatest doubles team ever with a record 15 Grand Slam men's doubles titles. The 35-year-old identical twins and former Stanford stars will seek the biggest accomplishment of their careers, a calendar-year Grand Slam, in the U.S. Open.
Marion Bartoli retired two months after winning Wimbledon
for her first Grand Slam women's singles title. 2012 photo
by Paul Bauman
   Bartoli retirement -- Tennis lost a true gem when Marion Bartoli of France abruptly announced her retirement at 28 on Wednesday because of numerous injuries. Only two months beforehand, Bartoli won Wimbledon for her first Grand Slam women's singles title.
   Everything about Bartoli was unusual -- her background, appearance, playing style, intelligence and personality.
   Bartoli grew up not on the sunny Riviera or in bustling Paris but in a snowy village in central France. She was taught not by French Tennis Federation coaches but by her physician father, Walter.
   Stocky for a pro player at 5-foot-6 (1.70 meters) and 139 pounds (63 kilograms), Bartoli employed a quirky serve and, like Hall of Famer Monica Seles, a two-handed forehand and backhand. Between points, she practiced her strokes as if she were a beginner.
   Off the court, Bartoli was down to earth, thoughtful and candid. Reputedly, she has a genius IQ.
   Bartoli played in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford for 11 consecutive years (2003-12), winning the title in 2009 and reaching the final in 2008 and 2011. Her news conference after she upset Venus Williams in the 2009 final was a classic. Here are some highlights:
   --"I give absolutely everything on the court. That's probably my biggest strength."
   --"The French federation used to tell me, 'Your dad is so stupid. He's an idiot. There's no way you can be a tennis player with him on your side.' I was looking at Venus when she was 14 or 15 and Serena. (Their father) was making them be No. 1 in the world. I was telling (the federation), 'You see, Venus came to be No. 1 with her dad on her side. Monica, too.' "
   --"I was always very ambitious. When I was 4 or 5, I told my dad, 'One day, I want to be the prime minister of France.' I remember always telling myself, 'I don't want to stay in this village forever. I want to go to the bigger city, travel the world, do something different and take my dad out of this village that doesn't see him work almost 18 hours a day and doesn't respect him.' "
   Mission accomplished.   

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