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By Sandra Harwitt
Sometimes statistics can be a bit deceiving, but other times they can totally tell the story. We saw that play out on a mostly rain soaked day at Wimbledon on Monday.
The most shocking of statistics was that for the first time since 1911 — correct, over 100 years ago — the United States doesn’t have either a man or a woman competing in the fourth round at Wimbledon. It’s the first time since 1922 that there’s no American man in the fourth round.
Even a number of years ago when the American fortune started to wane, Wimbledon remained something of a hope for a nation who for so long was used to routinely having Grand Slam champs in their midst. Our guys and gals liked fast surfaces and usually would perform well on the grass. We must give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that the sisters Williams certainly held up their end of the bargain with each one having won five Wimbledon trophies to date since the year 2000 when Venus won her first here.
And there’s props to Andy Roddick who certainly gave his best efforst in bringing a Wimbledon win home for the home country. Andy played for the title in three finals — 2004, 2005 and 2009 — but each time came up against Roger Federer, who was just a tad better. It’s worth pointing out that the 2009 loss was a heartbreaker for Roddick — he should’ve won that one, but just saw it slip away at 16-14 in the fifth set. Oh, if there just wasn’t a Federer there would’ve been a Roddick shelf at home with at least on Wimbledon winner’s trophy.
This year the Americans landed in England with 23 enthusiastic competitors – 10 men and 13 women — hoping with all their hearts they could fare well at this most revered of places. But this year it’s just not going that well. Not even world No. 1 Serena Williams — she with 17 Grand Slam titles to her credit — could hold up her end of the bargain. And it’s hard to process that she hasn’t reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the three majors she’s played this season, which leaves only the U.S. Open for her to rebound.
But let’s look at the men for a minute — specifically, John Isner. Some would think he has the perfect game for grass. That big serve should be a mighty weapon. But as has often been the case his serve wasn’t enough on Monday against Ferliciano Lopez, not even taking into consideration that in their four-set match Big John served up 52 aces. It just wasn’t enough against Lopez — who had 34 aces — and ended up with the 6-7 (8), 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), 7-5 win.
Isner’s problem is that he’s almost perfect at holding onto his own serve, that is until he gets fatigued from playing every set to a tiebreaker and loses focus for the nano-second necessary to allow his opponent to sneak through the encounter. There’s no way that Isner can continue to play every match as if it’s a marathon.
One important step in that direction is learning how to consistently break serve — it’s fabulous to be able to hold onto your own serve, but a fairly ineffectual strategy if you struggle with making inroads on your opponents’ serve. In the two hour, 50 minute match against Lopez, Isner only was capable of getting 24 of 74 forehand returns in play, and 34 of 67 backhand returns in play.
“He played better in the second and third sets and toward the end,” Isner said. “He served very well, I thought. I served well. I just couldn’t get into his serve games. For me it was hard. I tried, I tried, and I just couldn’t break through. He was making a lot of first serves, and when he does that he’s tough to beat. He’s done well in this tournament before.”
But it’s not quite time to despair — the Bryan brothers are still going and so are the Williams doubles act. The Americans might yet have a win at Wimbledon this year.