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Friday, May 6, 2011

For first time ever, tennis will have no Americans in top 10

MADRID (APMSO) — Tennis will be without a top-10 American men's or women's player for the first time in the 38-year history of the rankings after Serena Williams was projected to drop out next week.
The 10th-ranked Williams hasn't competed since winning Wimbledon and could drop as low as No. 19 in the WTA rankings depending on outcomes at this week's Madrid Open.
Mardy Fish dropped from the No. 10 spot last week to leave no American player in the men's top 10, while former No. 1 Andy Roddick has bounced in and out but currently sits 12th — one better than Fish.
Monday will mark the first time since the lists — the men's was created in 1973 and the women's two years later — that no American has appeared.
Williams has yet to return from two foot operations and treatment for a blood clot in her lung. Sister Venus Williams, currently No. 16, will drop down after being sidelined since the Australian Open with a hip injury. The seven-time Grand Slam champion is expected to return at Eastbourne next month in preparation for Wimbledon, while 13-time Grand Slam winner Serena has said she will return sometime in the summer.
The U.S. is the most successful country when it comes to No. 1s with the Williams sisters among seven former top-ranked women, while Roddick is the last of six top-ranked players on the men's side.
American player Bethanie Mattek-Sands is the next highest ranked American after the Williams sisters, and will climb to No. 38 after reaching the quarterfinals of the Madrid tournament, where she bowed out to seventh-ranked Li Na of China 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 on Friday.
Mattek-Sands said changes are necessary in the United States Tennis Association's development program, with a variety of factors to blame from pressure to burnout to general work ethic.
"In other countries there's a little more of that grit to get out of where they're coming from. Take some of the Russians, they're trying to get out of there — make some money, and get out of there. The U.S. have it too good," Mattek-Sands told The Associated Press and one other major news agency at the Caja Magica on Friday.
"It will take some people getting out of their comfort zone."
Eight Russian players are ranked ahead of Mattek-Sands, with two in the top-10. Earlier this year the top-10 was made up of 10 players from different countries. The last time there were no American women in the top group was May 20, 2007.
So are American players getting lazy? Or has the talent pool just grown deeper?
Mattek-Sands believes it's a bit of both.
"Some people stop because they don't like sport any more, a lot of kids were pushed when they were young and they hate tennis now," said Mattek-Sands, a regular on the U.S. Fed Cup team who has yet to win a top-level event.
"I've seen a ton of juniors not make it — nobody's playing anymore, nobody's playing. Where are they now? They don't even touch tennis rackets."
The news is worse on the male side coming out of an era marked by No. 1's Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, with Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe before. This is the longest drought in major singles titles during the Open era with Roddick's 2003 U.S. Open victory the last.
"A new generation has to come," said top-ranked Spanish player Rafael Nadal. "(Roddick) has enough potential to (get back into the top-10). Sam Querrey, John Isner, (Ryan) Harrison: these guys have to come and be there in the future — that's the new generation."
But while Americans aren't racking up Grand Slams, they did combine to win nine singles titles in 2010 to trail only Spanish players as a collective. Four American men finished the year in the top 20 for the first time since 1999.
Mattek-Sands, known for her knee-high socks and unusual tennis clothes, said she would never consider herself the top American unless she cracks the top 10.
"There's a lot of talent out there, but it's just tough right now. A lot of juniors get injured and their flame gets put out before they get a chance to go out on tour," she said. "There is a lot of pressure in the U.S. to be No. 1."

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