Will James Blake ever win a Grand Slam?

A recent Deuce Magazine article takes a close look at the career of James Blake. He’s been America’s second-ranked male tennis player for the past seven years. However, he’s yet to win a Grand Slam. In the piece, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal critique Blake’s game, as well as offer insight as to why he hasn’t taken it to the next level.

What’s always been tricky in that department is Blake’s playing style. Blake’s A-game is a sizzling set of big forehands, aggressive returns, extraordinary movement and enough shotmaking for tons of highlight reels. Few players in the past 20 years have better personified the notion of a dangerous player. Watch Blake versus the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and you’ll see a man extremely capable of going toe-to-toe with giants. As Nadal said earlier this year after earning his first win over Blake in four tries at the ATP Masters Series event in Indian Wells, “He’s a very difficult player for me to play against… very aggressive player all the time.”

Though Blake is pleased with the consistency of his play in 2008 – he’s maintained a Top 10 ranking all year – there have also been some beguiling losses, including a five-setter in the second round of Wimbledon versus Rainer Schuettler and defeats in finals to first-time winners Kei Nishikori and Marcel Granollers. “This year’s been a little strange,” says Blake. “I’ve had some ups and downs.”

It’s astonishing that Blake used to dominate Nadal a few years back. He also beat Federer in Beijing before a heart-breaking loss to Fernando Gonzalez, which would have at least guaranteed him a bronze medal. At 29 years-old, Blake’s years are numbered on the ATP Tour. Hopefully both he and Andy Roddick will be prepared for the Australian Open in January. As another year goes by without a dominant male American player, one begins to wonder if legends such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras were just Europeans with really good Yankee accents.

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Where have all the great American male tennis players gone?

It’s no great revelation that America’s top male players are not really considered a threat to win any of the Grand Slams. When it comes to tournament play, quality U.S. players are a dying breed, and the numbers do not lie. With no American in the U.S. Open men’s semi-finals this weekend, it will be the 16th straight Grand Slam event without a U.S. men’s winner.

Andy Roddick has become the poster boy of U.S. tennis in the post-Sampras and Agassi era. Is he bitter? Hardly, Roddick has found some solace in trying to lead the Americans with his meat and potatoes power game against the sophisticated style that has dominated tennis for years. And he holds the claim of being the last U.S. winner of a Grand Slam event; he won the 2003 U.S. Open final.

James Blake has been somewhat of a disappointment on the men’s tour. He is often noted for his athleticism, which many believe should enable him to win a Grand Slam. Instead, he plants himself on the end line and tries to become a straight-ahead basher, which just negates his speed.

It’s not only that the U.S. contenders have retired or currently slumping, but the pipeline of potential tennis stars is as thin as ever. A quick glance at the top ten players at the 16-17 years old level and you will not see an American name on the list.

There was a time when pro tennis players came from one of three global regions, Australia, Western Europe, or the United States. Today, the top two men’s singles players are a Spaniard (Rafael Nadal) and a Swiss (Roger Federer).

Tennis has grown everywhere else on the globe except in the United States. Many in tennis feel youngsters have shied away from the sport due to the popularity of action sports (skateboarding or other X Game-style events) in American culture. Tennis fans anticipated the drop-off of American players in the sport because of the lack of depth produced by the U.S. tennis academies. If the U.S. hopes to produce more male champions, that’s where it’s going to happen.

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