April 7, 2009

Houston, We Have a Problem

I can't remember the last time when the top seeds were ousted in the very first round of a tournament. But at Houston's U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship, which kicked off the road to the French Open, that's exactly what happened.

American men have never really been a force on the slippery surface -- remember in Pete Sampras's record fourteen Grand Slam titles, the only one that eluded him was Roland Garros. Even still James Blake and Mardy Fish were given the #1 and #2 seeds respectively -- and it was apparently a lot to live up to.

Neither man has had the most success this year. A frustrated Blake hasn't won a title since New Haven in 2007 and, as he deals with an ankle injury, has seen his ranking steadily slip from #10 at the start of the year to #17 as of Monday. Fish, on the other hand, was able to pull out a victory in Delray Beach last month, but also suffered first-match exits in Miami and Indian Wells, not to mention two tournaments in Australia.

However the high billing in Houston should have given them some support, if only psychological. James, with the top spot, faced Argentina's Guillermo Canas while his friend took on Germany's Bjorn Phau. Mardy was able to capture the second set before falling in the third to the 77th-ranked Phau, while Blake was practically decimated by the former top-ten player, now ranked #113 -- Canas only ceded four of his first serves.

Of course the losses are rough. My personal bias toward my countrymen, and my particular love of Blake, aside, it's hard to see these guys lose time and again. The resurgence of Andy Roddick and wins this week by two younger players, John Isner and Scoville Jenkins, are reassuring, but far from the widespread success that brought home the titles and the Davis Cup in 2007. If these early results are any indication, this could be a rough year.

Thankfully it wasn't a total loss for the American men. Blake and Fish did team up in the doubles draw and did manage a win over wildcard entrants Amer Delic and Robert Kendrick.

Here's hoping they see more success in that bracket!

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