FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — With Andy Roddick one year into retirement and his successors John Isner and Sam Querrey underperforming in a major tournament again, it fell to a most unlikely player—109th-ranked Tim Smyczek — to spare American men’s tennis yet another indignity.
Few men exceeded expectations at this year’s U.S. Open more than Smyczek, a 5-foot-9, 145-pound journeyman from Milwaukee who had never gotten past the second round of a major in nearly eight years of slugging away mainly in the sport’s developmental ranks.
But toppling Marcel Granollers, a former top-20 player from Spain, for a place in the U.S. Open’s fourth round proved a step too far for the last Yank standing in the men’s draw. And his 6-4, 4-6, 0-6, 6-3, 7-5 defeat marked the first time in U.S. Open history, which dates from 1881, that no American man reached the round of 16.
Smyczek (pronounced “SMEE-check”) was gracious in defeat and thoughtful about its broader significance, noting that Americans have been spoiled by the rich vein of home-grown champions of the past. And he gamely predicted a shift of fortune was in the offing, citing the promising crop of youngsters poised to break into the top 100 and the promise of Isner and Querrey, ranked 17th and 31st, respectively.
As for his own performance, Smyczek said he was disappointed to have lost to Granollers after getting an early service break in the fifth set. Nonetheless, all he wished for was a chance to do better next year.
“These are the types of situations you dream about,” Smyczek said. “It was pretty cool to be the last American male in the draw for a day. I got a little taste of it. It’s where I want to be.”
The crowd on the Grandstand Court made it sweeter, cheering him on with chants of “USA! USA!” and “Tim! Tim! Tim!”
Said Smyczek: “I had never heard anyone yell out from the stands, ‘You’re our last hope!’ That was new.”
The 128-player men’s draw included 15 Americans, of which only Isner and Querrey were seeded.
Querrey, 25, succumbed in the second round to 63rd-ranked Adrian Mannarino.
Isner, 28, wilted Saturday against Philipp Kohlschreiber, conceding he was “gassed” in the fourth set of his 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5) defeat.
At 6-6 and 6-10, respectively, Querrey and Isner have all the physical tools to become top-10 players. But they have yet to maximize their gifts, never seriously threatening for a major title, although Isner famously prevailed in the longest match in tennis history, a 2010 clash at Wimbledon with Nicolas Mahut of France that spanned three days and was settled at 70-68 in the fifth set.
Both could take a lesson from 32-year-old Lleyton Hewitt, a former world No. 1 who has parlayed sheer tenacity into a late-career resurgence here at the U.S. Open, bullying his way into the fourth round with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-1 victory Sunday over Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy.
A former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion, Hewitt held the world No. 1 ranking for 80 weeks. Yet he still competes as if he has more to prove than Isner or Querrey. Hewitt loves spilling blood on a tennis court as much as collecting the spoils.