It’s a familiar tune we hear time and again at major tennis tournaments — “There are no Americans left in the draw.” It’s articulated more by American broadcast journalists, of course, than ones calling matches outside the states. The thing is, if these experts are pulling for America — which, of course, they truly are — why not herald the Americans left in the draws? The ones outside the game of singles?
Today at the French Open, American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her doubles partner (and singles finalist) Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, earned a spot in the women’s doubles final. The women defeated Olympic medalists Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.
Safarova’s not the only one doing double-dipping, either. Yesterday, Mattek-Sands and American Mike Bryan won the mixed doubles championship, defeating Lucie Hradecka and Marcin Matkowski, 7-6(3), 6-1.
Waiting in the wings are Bob and Mike Bryan, too. The California twins with over 100 titles to their names will play for their third Roland Garros crown tomorrow. There’s no two tennis players more American than the bouncing Bryan twins.
Most importantly, Serena Williams will fight for her 20th Grand Slam in singles tomorrow. Of all the Americans left in the draw, she deserves the highest praise after rattling off 10 games to win her semifinal match while suffering with the flu.
The stars and stripes aren’t just represented in the seniors. Two American boys — Taylor Fritz (No. 2) and Tommy Paul (No. 13) — will vie for the boys’ singles title. It’s the first all-American boys final at the French Open.
Taking a quick tally, that’s six Americans alive and well in Paris with Mattek-Sands already a champion.
So why the cry, “No Americans in the draw!”? Because it’s business as usual in the commentators booth? Or, it’s business as usual on the corporate side?
No doubt about it, singles sells. Advertisers don’t trust the stats that firmly say more people play doubles than singles, but in reality, it’s the people’s game. They do trust the fact that singles is the promoted game, along with its players, by the governing bodies. The choice to speak about singles — and not men’s and women’s doubles, junior tennis, or wheelchair tennis — is a logical one, when considering return on investment — the touchstone of corporate communities.
Broadcast journalist Ted Robinson, calling a match for Tennis Channel, mentioned one afternoon that there weren’t any additional and significant names left in the day’s schedule. He was right, if you consider the depth of tennis knowledge from a superficial fan base. But Mr. Robinson was working for Tennis Channel. The demographic of viewers watching Tennis Channel is not characterized as a ‘superficial’ fan base. They are a diehard fan base, have email addresses such as ‘firstname.lastname@example.org,’ and download all the apps applicable to Grand Slams, Masters 1000s, and Premier Mandatory events on the women’s side.
Robinson, though, switches broadcast booths frequently. He’s a favorite on ESPN, NBC, and CBS when relevant. However, he must broaden his perspective while educating audiences. That’s his job.
So how well did Americans do in Paris?
Teenager and wildcard Frances Tiafoe was the youngest to compete in the men’s singles main draw — although he was no match for Martin Klizan and lost in the first round. Tiafoe told the press, “I need to get a lot better.”
Jack Sock, the all-American blonde from Nebraska, rattled the men’s draw as he advanced all the way to the fourth round, an oddity in Paris for American men. He lost to Rafael Nadal in four fun-filled sets, aggressively challenging the Spaniard to come up with the goods in the fourth set when he had been on the brink of winning the match in three.
The unseeded Sock did better than his mate John Isner, seeded No. 16, who fell in the second round to Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. Sock, alongside doubles mate Canadian Vasek Pospisil, whirled their way to the quarterfinals as well. Big props to the 21-year-old Sock, a new-found wiz on red clay and the youngest American to compete in the fourth round since Pete Sampras in 1993.
“I feel like it [clay] maximizes my game more than other surfaces,” Sock said, reported by Courtney Nguyen of SI.com. “I’m able to set up and dictate with the forehand again.”
The women’s singles draw thwarted America’s hopes from the get go. Thirteen of 17 women landed in Serena’s bracket and in the top half.
Venus Williams played Sloane Stephens right out of the box. Gone was the 34-year-old Williams, while Stephens went on to week two, losing to Serena — but matching her performance from the last three years.
Varvara Lepchenko lost to Madison Keys in the first round, while Mattek-Sands lost to a strong Irina-Camelia Begu. Shelby Rogers was no match for German Andrea Petkovic; former Top 30 player Christina McHale couldn’t finish off Lourdes Dominguez Lino in the first round; and Alison Riske fell under the spell of Sara Errani, a clay-court magician.
Kudos, though, to Irina Falconi who broke through all barriers to make the third round — tying her best at a Grand Slam.
There are plenty of reasons for excitement over Americans in Paris, either gone but not forgotten or upright and poised for more action. It’s time to get the word out that tennis is more than a game of singles.