Reporting David Elfin
The French Open is underway at Stade Roland Garros. And other than the suspense of whether Serbia’s Novak Djokovic will tie the all-time men’s record for consecutive victories and ascend to the top of the rankings, does anyone on this side of the pond care?
It may be xenophobic and provincial, but it’s hard for most Americans to get excited about a tennis tournament taking place overseas in which none of their countrymen or countrywomen have much chance of winning.
The last American to prevail on the red clay in Paris was Serena Williams in 2002. The last US men’s winner was Andre Agassi three years earlier.
Actually, the dearth of American champions in the French Open isn’t a new development. Prior to Agassi, only Jim Courier (1991-92) and Michael Chang (1989) had won on the men’s side since 1955. And from 1973-99, Chris Evert was the only American women’s champion, albeit seven times over.
What has changed is the idea that an American might even threaten to win in Paris. Since the rankings were created on the men’s side in 1973 and the women’s two years later, there had always been at least one American in the top 10. Until this month.
A record eight American women – Billie Jean King, Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and Serena and Venus Williams — and six men – Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Courier, Pete Sampras, Agassi and Andy Roddick – have been ranked first in the world, but until Mardy Fish sneaked back into the 10th spot on the men’s list last week, there were no Americans to be found. Williams, who isn’t competing in Paris as she continues to battle health problems, is the top US woman at No. 17.
Lesser Americans also used to make runs at Roland Garros. Silver Spring’s Harold Solomon was a French Open finalist in 1976 as were Brian Gottfried in 1977 and the late Vitas Gerulaitis in 1980. But no American man has made it to the last match in Paris since Agassi’s title 12 years ago and no US woman has done so since the Williams sisters dueled for the title three years later.
American Woody Allen’s new movie is a love poem to the City of Light. But these days, his racket-wielding countrymen are more likely to find love – zero in tennis — is their score in yet another lost game on the red clay of Roland Garros.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.