May 25, 2010

Les Américans à Paris

You know the last time an American man made the quarterfinals in Paris? It's been almost seven years since Andre Agassi last got there, and after that no one has really come close. I'm not sure 2010 will be the year, either, but there are some signs of encouragement from the first few matches of the French Open.

Big John Isner was the first to make the next round after the second best man in the country used up just about ninety minutes to dismiss Andrey Golubev. Taylor Dent followed him soon after with a key win over fellow veteran Nicolas Lapentti, a man who had won three of his five titles on clay. Even Mardy Fish, who's been battling injuries for the better part of a year, rallied for a late night, five-set win over Germany's Michael Berrer. Today they were joined by two more compatriots whose performances show, if nothing else, they'll fight their hearts out to stay alive in Paris this year.

Robby Ginepri unfortunately had to face friend and countryman Sam Querrey in order to claim the third American spot. The world #98 had only advanced past to the first second of Roland Garros once in his career, and when the Belgrade champion rolled through the opening set in about half an hour, it didn't look like Ginepri would improve on that record. But finding himself down 0-3 in the second set tiebreak, Robby found a way to rally and took the next seven points from Sam to even up the score. He began the third set by breaking Querrey's serve and didn't look back -- he didn't even allow his opponent one break chance in the last three sets, and after just over two hours Ginepri earned only his second ticket out of the French Open first round.

More impressive was U.S. #1 Andy Roddick who put up his best ever performance in Paris when he made the fourth round of the Major. While Roddick has already won two titles this year and boasts an impressive 26-4 record, few considered him a force at this year's French. He had skipped the entire lead-up clay court season due to illness or injury, and with the record he has on dirt, it's hard to argue that this is his best surface.

Roddick had a pretty tough draw against Finland's Jarkko Nieminen in the first round. The twenty-eight year old has won a handful of Challenger events on clay and had beaten the likes of Agassi and Feliciano Lopez in Paris in the past. After dropping the first set, Nieminen found a way to get under Andy's skin and took the next two from the former world #1. Just when it looked like another American would pack their bags, Roddick went on a run in the fourth set tiebreak and then broke Jarkko twice in the decider to advance to the next round after almost three and a half hours of play.

Of course this tournament is far from over -- Dent will be rewarded with a date with 2009 runner-up Robin Soderling on Wednesday while Mardy faces Indian Wells champ Ivan Ljubicic. Roddick and Isner don't have the threat of a top seed looming any time soon, but that doesn't make their opponents any less intimidating. But though I know it's way too premature to call any of these guys a favorite on these grounds, it does seem that this crop of young Americans shows more promise than we've seen in a long time.

And if one of them should make their way into the quarters -- or better! -- I'd be cheering him all the way.

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