LONDON -- On the Fourth of July in London SW, which means over here, here is the state of American tennis: It is seven months pregnant.
Oh, sure. The most interesting action in American tennis, at least this week and maybe for a while, is Serena Williams posting some shots on social media of herself hitting a few tennis balls. As soon as you saw the images, you started to think that even now, and in her current condition, she's the only American tennis player you really want to watch. So it has come to that. The face of tennis in our country is Serena on the cover of the current Vanity Fair.
Serena is the only American player, man or woman, to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament in the past nine years. The only non-Serena American to win a major in the last decade happens to be her sister Venus, who won Wimbledon in 2008 and still, at the age of 37, with her sister on the sidelines -- only active these days hitting a few balls from the baseline -- fancies herself making her own run over the rest of the Wimbledon fortnight.
The last American woman who isn't named Williams to win a major was Jennifer Capriati, at the 2002 Australian Open. And of course the last American man to win a major was Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. He had some innings after that, Roddick did, especially in the 2009 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer, one of the most memorable Federer ever played here and the Wimbledon men's final ever saw. Roddick had a chance to go up two sets to none that day, blew a backhand volley at the end of the second set, lost the set, finally lost the match, 16-14 in the fifth set.
It was Roddick's (slight) misfortune that day to not only run into the greatest player of all time, but to run into the greatest player of all time on a day when he decided to serve up 50 aces in the Wimbledon final. That was Roddick's last loud roar. He never made it back to a Grand Slam final. No American man has seriously contended in one since.
So here we are at Wimbledon. Is there a chance that some American could step out of the chorus and do something at the sport's home office? Sure. It is sports, things happen, they were only finishing off the first round of Wimbledon '17 on the Fourth. Venus is already a great drama here for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with her tennis game, because of a June 9 automobile accident in which she was involved, one that resulted in the death of a 79-year-old man in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
When she was asked about the accident and that tragedy after winning her first-round match against Elise Mertens, she said, "There are really no words to describe, like, how devastating and -- yeah. I'm completely speechless. It's just -- yeah, I mean, I'm just …" She ran out of words and composure then. There aren't any words for what police have described as right-of-way error as she entered a six-lane highway that resulted in the death of Jerome Barson and injuries to his wife, Linda.
She still comes to Wimbledon to play, hoping to make the kind of run she did in the Australian Open in January, where she eventually lost another big final to her younger sister, not long before her young sister announced she'd been eight weeks pregnant when she won Australia. Venus tries to make a run the way Billie Jean King once did when she was approaching her 37th birthday, before she ran into Martina Navratilova in the second week and in the rain in the quarterfinals of 1980 and lost 10-8 in the third set of a match that took two days to finish. But now the possibilities of something like that happening with Venus become more complicated than ever because of a fatal automobile accident a month ago.
What is not complicated is the state of American tennis, which truly has been her and her sister since even before Pete Sampras won his 14th and last major at the 2002 U.S. Open against Andre Agassi. On the men's side, there was Pete vs. Andre, then Roddick briefly, nothing since. Nothing like that has ever happened in the sport in this country, especially on the men's side. These days there is a better chance that the U.S. will do something big in World Cup soccer than at Centre Court, Wimbledon, or any of the other main rooms of the sport. And you think we look bad to the rest of the world because of the President's Twitter feed.
In golf, even in the world after Tiger Woods, you still had a kid like Jordan Spieth come along, and make you want to watch him. Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open in 2016 and finally played himself into the No. 1 ranking in the world. There is nobody even close to that in men's tennis. Currently the highest ranked American man is Jack Sock, at 18 in the world. At a time when Federer came into this Wimbledon at 18 majors, working on No. 19 here.
"It's pretty sad, isn't it?" Jimmy Connors said to me from California on Monday.
There are so many explanations -- or excuses -- for this you lose track. Some of them are the same you hear from what we call soccer and what they call football here. The best athletes we have go into other sports. The United States Tennis Association hasn't done enough with its development programs. All that. None of it changes the fact is that the last two, and true, American men's tennis champs were Pete and Andre. And Pete won his last major 15 years ago.
American tennis has been Serena and Venus. Thirty major singles championships between them. A ton of Grand Slam doubles titles on top of that. But even with Serena about to give birth to her first child, it is now nine years since Venus won No. 7. The whole sport in America has been Serena. You know by now because even people in outer space know that John McEnroe said that Serena would be ranked around 700 in men's tennis. Whatever. You get the idea that the United States is around a 700-to-1 shot in men's tennis to even get an American man into the semifinals at a place like Wimbledon. This continues to be, on the men's side, the most embarrassing time in our county in all of tennis history.
And it's not like there is another champ in the pipeline on the women's side. There are talented young women, for sure. I sat high up at Court 11 on Monday morning, a little before noon, and watched Madison Keys show all of her promise and power in winning a straight-set match against Nao Hibino. The kid has fought through injuries lately. But is still 22. Maybe this is her time to break through.
No one is saying that we are looking for another Serena. There will never be another Serena in women's tennis the way there isn't going to be anybody close to Tiger Woods in golf, who once seemed as if he might try to win as many majors in his sport as Serena has in hers until life and injury and his own bad decisions got in his way. Nobody would ever suggest that somebody will ever come along, from any country, and win majors the way Serena has, or Chris Evert did. But for now in American tennis, we're just looking for somebody -- man or woman -- to win just one.
Jimmy won eight majors. So did Agassi. McEnroe won seven. Pete held the record in men's tennis at 14 until he got passed by Fed, and Rafa Nadal. Fed and Rafa have been part of a golden era in men's tennis, for a long time, the two of them and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, defending men's champ here, somebody I once again heard get cheered at Centre Court on Monday like a Yankee at Yankee Stadium. You can only imagine how much bigger the sport would look and feel in our country if one of them had been American. None has been. Tennis is still the main event over here. Not back home. Where American tennis is seven months pregnant. Where the main event in American tennis will probably still be Serena when she's a mom.