By Joseph Staszewski
The US Open might as well be called just the Open in its second week.
It hasn’t been a pretty tennis tournament so far for U.S. athletes not named Williams at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. As of Monday, there were no American men left in the singles draw, marking the first time a U.S. male hasn’t made it out of the third round of a Grand Slam.
The days of John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick packing the place with patriotic anticipation and a palpable energy are clearly over. Wild card Tim Smyczek was the last American male standing before losing to Marcel Granollers of Spain Sunday.
“At the very top of the game American tennis is a little bit behind where it has been in years past,” Smyczek said. “I know we got really spoiled with Pete, Andre, all those guys and Andy for so many years.”
On the women’s side there were glimpses of compelling storylines that never fully developed. Victoria Duval was a darling for a night after the 17-year-old beat 2011 US Open Champion Sam Stosur in the first round. Sloane Stephens, the 20-year-old future face of US women’s tennis, was unlucky to draw No. 1-ranked Serena Williams in the fourth round.
The much-hyped match didn’t live up to the billing as Williams schooled Stephens in a straight set win. Stephens’ time will come to lead a talented group of up-and-coming American women which includes Jamie Hampton, who Stephens beat in Round 3. The women, unlike the men, are on the rise.
“Next year there could be three other American girls in the Top 20,” Stephens said. “It just depends. Right now I’m carrying the little torch. But I’m okay with it. I embrace it for now.”
Casual tennis fans like myself don’t have a compelling U.S. story to follow for the final week of the US Open. Sure Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are great, but they don’t make most Americans swell with pride. Williams will draw some people in, but she’s won before and often.
The experience of watching the live matches changes because the crowd reaction and involvement is different at the US Open when an American is on court. The people are louder and more involved. They wanted to push, coach and cheer the U.S. player to victory.
“It’s definitely a completely different feeling than being at any other tournament,” Stephens said after the opening round match. “I think people, they really get behind you. It helps. It does help.”
There is still plenty to enjoy at the US Open between the good food, intimate stadium settings and chance for autographs. The opportunity to watch American tennis in front of a passionate crowd, though, just got harder to find.