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updated: 3/3/2011 5:12 PM

MIA: Top players not named Williams

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  • Venus Williams

      Venus Williams
    Associated Press

 
 

There's not much U.S. in the U.S. Open this year.

At least not on the women's side.

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As of Friday, only two American women still had more tennis ahead of them in New York. And only one, Venus Williams, has any kind of legitimate chance of winning the title.

(Sorry unseeded and virtually unknown Beatrice Capra from Florida. Great job of getting to the third round, considering you're ranked No. 371 in the world. But I don't like your chances from here.)

That brings us to the dilemma of the moment for the professional women's tennis tour.

After the Williams sisters, the U.S. tennis cupboard is practically bare, which is bad for the popularity of the game, bad for ratings, bad, bad, bad, all the way around.

Serena and Venus Williams have been the "it girls" in tennis for the last 10 years and are still dominant. They rank No. 1 and No. 4 in the world, respectively.

But they're getting older. Venus is 30 and Serena is about to turn 29.

They're also wearing down. Both are slowed by injuries more regularly these days.

In fact, Serena isn't even playing the U.S. Open because of foot problems, and Venus isn't playing at 100 percent because of a recent knee injury.

When the Williams sisters do eventually retire, which could be sooner rather than later, then what?

Better yet, then who?

(Note to parents of athletic tween girls: Now might be a great time to buy your daughters a tennis racquet and some lessons.)

OK, OK.

So maybe the road to tennis glory in the U.S. isn't that wide open. But it's close.

The next highest-rated American after the Williams sisters is Melanie Oudin, who checks in at No. 44.

The almost 19-year-old has been given a lot of consideration as the next "big thing" in American tennis after an impressive run through last year's U.S. Open. Oudin defeated three ranked players to become the youngest American woman to make the quarterfinals since Serena Williams did so a decade earlier.

But on Wednesday, Oudin lost in the second round of the U.S. Open in straight sets. Talk about a buzz kill.

After Oudin, there are only two other Americans ranked in the WTA's Top 100: Vania King (74) and Bethanie Mattek-Sands (76). Um, who?

I scrolled down the rest of the rankings of U.S. women's tennis players and of the dozens of names on the list, which goes on for eons, by the way, I recognized only two: Chicago native Laura Granville, who is ranked No. 352, and Meghann Shaughnessy, who is No. 602.

Yikes!

Do you think Venus and Serena can somehow keep on keeping on well into their 40s?

If not, U.S. women's tennis might be facing a big-time drought in the supremacy department.

So what gives?

Is this cyclical? We have had a pretty nice run, you know.

In 1980, American women's tennis hit a high point when five of the top 10 ranked women in the world were from the United States.

But even long before, and long after that, the American arsenal has been stocked with a seemingly revolving door of world No. 1. talent: from Billie Jean King to Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles (who became a U.S. citizen), Lindsay Davenport and the Williams sisters.

Maybe the U.S. is due for some prolonged mediocrity.

Or maybe we're just in for an unexpected surprise.

Maybe there are some young American whippersnappers at some tennis academy in Florida who haven't quite hit the radar yet, but soon will, and with a vengeance.

I'm hoping the latter is true.

Because to me, professional women's tennis is just like golf. It's always more fun to watch when an American (or two or three or four) is at the top.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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