There was a single American remaining in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon this year, and his name was Mardy Fish. His is never a name that inspires confidence or even optimism in tennis fans in the United States, most of whom are still lamenting the retirement of Pete Sampras a decade ago. Fish lost to Rafael Nadal today, as we all confidently predicted he would do, and now there is not a single American remaining at the All England Club. The scarcity has inspired real panic amongst the American tennis cognoscenti, or those who consider themselves to be of the American tennis cognoscenti. It's a familiar panic, because we see it every year. Here's a sampling:
The dearth of U.S. talent contrasts markedly with the influx of American fans into the All England club.
The fortunes of American tennis rest with Mardy Fish, the sole American in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
When did American tennis become MIA?
American tennis is at one of its lowest points in years.
American tennis is scarily approaching game, set and match.
American tennis is facing its darkest hour.
As American tennis swirls in the commode, it's thriving elsewhere.
It isn't easy being a male American tennis player at Wimbledon, or even finding one.
The Great American tennis story doesn't have to be over yet. But this was more than rust.
What happened? This is about as low as American tennis can get, right?
These are obviously rough times for American tennis.
We are no longer a tennis power. It could be a cyclical thing. It could be permanent.
American tennis is a shadow of its former greatness.
Keep in mind that this melancholia had all set in before Fish lost to Nadal in a respectable four sets today. That alone gives a sense of just how hopeless our American tennis cause has become. After Fish beat Tomas Berdych in the fourth round to advance to the quarterfinals, reporters wanted to know how it felt to be "on his own" on this stage (forget that he's playing singles, not an international team competition).
"It doesn't feel great," Fish said, rather dutifully. "That's not the goal. I want the guys here, so that's a bit of a bummer."
Poor Mardy. We were writing him out of the semifinals before he even set foot on the court with Nadal because he is a second-tier player, and because even his slim-downed frame will never fit into the eternal void John McEnroe presumably left behind some 20 years ago. Mardy made it to the quarterfinals — a feat for him, even with the tenth seed in the tournament — but he was engaging in a lost cause, because it wasn't about Mardy. It is now convenient to make a collective out of American tennis. We know our greats, like Agassi and Sampras, and our pretty-greats, like Andy Roddick and Arthur Ashe, but most of us would have a hard time picking Mardy Fish out of a line-up. Yet he's still thrown behind a campaign that has little do with him and much to do with men like McEnroe. If the greats and pretty-greats aren't doing what we expect of them — or what the great history of American tennis so demands of them — then we turn briefly to the journeymen and humor them until they disappoint. The Mardy Fishes will always disappoint.