This U.S. Open coming up short on Americans

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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NEW YORK -- One singular sensation. A song lyric from A Chorus Line. A fact of tennis from the not-so-U.S. Open. The last two Americans went back-to-back Tuesday on a court named for a historic American, Arthur Ashe, and only one managed to survive.

Out went Sam Querrey, if stubbornly, and after he disappeared from view, from the draw, on came Venus Williams, who wasn't going anywhere, except to the semifinals.

Querrey had his chances in a fourth-round match against Stanislas Wawrinka, but Wawrinka had a 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory and a spot in the quarters.

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What Querrey, a 22-year-old Californian, also had were the usual questions about the dismal state of American tennis.

"Yeah," Querrey conceded, "you think about it. I mean, you guys tell me that every day I'm in [the interview room]. I didn't feel any extra pressure or anything. I wanted to keep the American men, keep the hope going. I was close."

After Querrey and Wawrinka had occupied Ashe for 4 hours, 28 minutes, Venus and Francesca Schiavone finally were able to get on for their quarterfinal, and Williams needed 1 hour, 54 minutes to score a 7-6, 6-4 victory.

The Open started last week with 27 Americans in singles play, 15 men, 12 women, and now it has one: Venus Williams.

Little Switzerland alone has two men in the quarters, Wawrinka and a guy named Roger Federer. That's two more than the United States.

"That's good," said Wawrinka, 25, "No, but Roger he's always in the quarterfinals since many years, so that's not something different. But for me it's the first time, so it's something important for my career."

As it would have been for Querrey, who has four wins this year but can't get far in the Grand Slams, the ones that matter.

"It was tough," Querrey said of his defeat, which, a shot here, a shot there, could have been a win.

"You know, four and a half hours. I was pretty sad in the locker room for a little while."

'I wanted to keep the American men, keep the hope going. I was close,' Sam Querrey says. (Getty Images)  
'I wanted to keep the American men, keep the hope going. I was close,' Sam Querrey says. (Getty Images)  
Pretty sad is a perfect description for the American showing in the Open. Andy Roddick, at No. 9 the highest-seeded U.S. player in the men's draw, departed before the third round, and while Querrey and Mardy Fish lasted until the fourth, it's now a big blank.

Another way to judge progress, or the lack of same, is that Spain, a nation of around 46 million, had six men in the fourth round, one of those being Rafael Nadal, while the United States, with 301 million, had only two, Querrey and Fish.

Sure, we whip anyone in college football, but tennis is proving considerably more difficult. The same might be said of golf, depending on how next month's Ryder Cup matches turn out.

When Querrey, a decent sort, was asked a rather dumb question about whether it was disappointing that for a second year in the American Open no American male was among the final eight, he gave a diplomatic answer.

"Um, yeah," he said. "I mean, we want to make the quarterfinals. We're trying our best. I was very close, but next year is another year."

There have been a lot of years for Venus. She's 30, ancient in tennis age, six days older than Schiavone, the Italian who won the French Open in June. It's hard to predict how long Williams will be a factor, but at the moment, for the U.S., she's the only factor.

"It wasn't easy to play under these conditions," Venus said, referring to the wind that swirled all day and caused as many problems for Wawrinka and Querrey as it did for the two women.

"It was hard to know what decision to make on shots," she said.

Venus said she would watch the quarterfinal between Samantha Stosur and defending champion Kim Clijsters -- Clijsters won -- which would provide her next opponent, "but for entertainment purposes only. I've played both of them enough."

The post-Labor Day crowd at Ashe apparently had watched tennis too much. Maybe only half the approximately 23,000 seats were full for two matches involving Americans. And those present were listless and silent until the second set, when Querrey made a spectacular shot.

On television, John McEnroe, who as player and commentator never could be described as listless and silent, was unhappy about both Querrey's hesitant play and the spectators' failure to whip him up.

The fans came a bit more alive when the women were playing, maybe because of the realization it either was Venus or no one.

"It was challenging out there," said Williams, who won the Open in 2000 and 2001. "I finally found a little bit of rhythm."

She said she understood the pressure on Querrey and how it takes time for a player to reach the upper levels of the game, where she has been for a decade.

When someone asked if she felt, as the only American left, if she were carrying the hopes of a country, Williams chuckled. "If I felt that way I couldn't even raise my arms," she replied.

What she'd like to raise, after two more matches, is the trophy. A Venus victory wouldn't make the U.S. a tennis power again, but it would be better than nothing -- and much more than the American men will win.

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