American men have infamously failed to win a tennis Grand Slam since Andy Roddick’s U.S. Open victory in 2003. ESPN analyst and 1989 French Open champion Patrick McEnroe believes that part of the reason is simply that tennis is more popular in other countries.
“Tennis is the second- or third-biggest sport in most European countries — they tend to get much better athletes playing tennis,” McEnroe said on Front Office Sports Today.
Top U.S. athletes are often drawn to the likes of basketball, football, and baseball. McEnroe thinks that the last two decades of tennis — dominated by the “Big Three” of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic — could have been radically different if they had grown up in the U.S.
“You look at Djokovic, you look at these young guys — Sinner, Alcaraz, Rune from Denmark, obviously Federer and Nadal — if these guys grew up in the U.S., they could be superstars possibly in other sports.”
While Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz, who will meet in Sunday’s Wimbledon final, appear to be the dominant forces right now, McEnroe sees green shoots for American men in tennis, particularly in the respective ninth- and 10th-ranked players, Taylor Fritz and Francis Tiafoe.
“I think we’re in a better position now, but the balance of power in tennis, especially men’s tennis, is still in Europe.”
Another issue is the incredibly high bar of being acknowledged as a top player in men’s tennis, particularly in a generation dominated by only a few players.
“You need to win majors” to receive real acclaim in the tennis world, said McEnroe. “You could be the seventh- or eighth-best basketball player in the world, and people know you everywhere.”