We knew this day would come for some time, and it's been the talk of American tennis for years: Who will be the next face of American men's tennis when Andy Roddick steps aside?
Even when Roddick was at the top of his game, everybody was wondering who he would pass the baton to. Everybody has been waiting, wondering who it would be, but nobody ever seemed to really step up and show it. In Roddick's final U.S. Open, it ended like so many others in the last decade, with him being the last American standing.
Even if he didn't come into this tournament as the top-seeded American anymore, he was still the face of American men's tennis based largely on his track record that included a Grand Slam. That face is now gone. Somebody else has to do it, but who?
Isner is the most obvious candidate to take the lead role for the USA, but he leaves a lot to be desired. Isner's game is even more one-dimensionally based around his serve and forehand than Roddick's was, and that was something that always separated Roddick from the other greats of his era. Isner breaking serve is often occasion for celebration, it happens so infrequently (look at his Wimbledon marathon for proof of that).
But Isner has been the best for the USA recently. He came into this U.S. Open as the highest-seeded American at No. 9, and many thought he had a legit shot at reaching the semifinals. Unfortunately for him it didn't happen, perhaps signifying exactly what many see as the future of American tennis: disappointing.
Isner is already 28 years old, but he'll point out that he's a young 28 in tennis terms. By virtue of having been a late bloomer in the sport and playing four years at the University of Georgia, he hasn't gone through the grind that most 28-year-old tour players have at this point. That much is true, but it's hard to accept a guy nearing 30 is going to improve much, if at all.
For now, though, it's Isner based on the fact he's the top-ranked American.
It feels like Querrey has been around a while, but he's still only 24. He has found some success on tour, having seven titles to his name. But the highest he has reached in the world rankings was No. 17 in early 2011. Frankly, that's not what American tennis fans are looking for. They want to see the next American who can compete for and win a Slam. Querrey has reached the fourth round three times at Slams, twice at the Open and once at Wimbledon.
At this point, it's tough to see Querrey becoming an elite player. He's a player who will likely float around the 20s in the rankings for a few more years, but making it to the next level just doesn't look to be in the cards barring a career turnaround.
It wasn't long ago that Young was that next prospect. He was the hot shot that everybody was hoping would develop into an elite player. He had all the talent in the world at a young age and was ID'd as the next star.
The 23-year-old seemed like he might be on the verge of stepping up his game at last year's U.S. Open when he reached the Round of 16. That faded fast, though, when he had one of the worst seasons any tennis player has had. This year Young endure a 17-match losing streak. He just underwent a change in coaches, and perhaps it's not too late for him to turn his career around. But at this point he's a long way from being able to lift the mantle.
Harrison is another one of the young prospects who was targeted in recent years as being that next guy. As a junior, he reached the semis at the Aussie Open and peaked at the No. 7 ranking. He is from Austin, Texas, the residence of Roddick, and the two worked together a lot over the years. At this point he is still an up-and-comer. The question is how far will he come up?
Harrison has been cutting his teeth with the Davis Cup team, getting a lot of meaningful big-match experience. But so far he hasn't had a lot of success at the big events, not getting past the second round in any of the Slams.
But he's just 20, and he did reach a career high of 43 in the rankings earlier this summer. There's not much doubt that Harrison's career is on the rise.
Another young player with a parallel to Roddick, Sock comes from the same hometown of Lincoln, Neb. It must be something in the water, because Sock has that same powerful serve that Roddick possessed, and it could be as big a tool going forward in his career. He has one of those urban-legend backgrounds, never having lost a match in his high school career, winning four consecutive state titles.
Sock is just 19 but already has an accomplished resume to show for it. He took the crown at the 2010 U.S. Open Junior tournament and has already won a major title at the professional level, taking the 2011 U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin.
Sock has yet to play in a tournament besides the U.S. Open at the pro level, but that might change based on his performance this year in New York. Sock reached the third round and took Nicolas Almagro to three tie-breakers before losing in four sets -- but not before he had the chance to inspire some hope. It's still very early in his career, and he has a lot of tread to put on his tires, but there certainly appears to be promise.