America Clinging to Roddick, Blake

Heavy expectations have been placed on No. 5 seed Andy Roddick for reviving the American tradition in tennis. Photo: Tim Clary

On the expressway out to Flushing Meadows, you can't avoid the sight of them.??

Every mile or so there are giant posters of Andy Roddick or James Blake, and it is much the same story on the subway or around Manhattan, constant images of America's two top-10 men.??

The only man more visible through the U.S. Open is John McEnroe who, if you thought he was being overexposed at Wimbledon, is even more omnipresent here.??

America is clinging to Blake and Roddick as the host nation's only representatives in the last 16 among the plethora of Europeans from countries some at the U.S. Open may not have heard of.??

While their profiles make lucrative business, the two bear heavy burdens of expectations and are being hyped?beyond their ability in what is a waning powerhouse tennis nation.??

The U.S. is worried about the growing competition and has only just recovered from the ignominy of no American man winning a single match at this year's French Open.??

Roddick was the best performer on a more traditionally friendly surface at Wimbledon, where he reached the quarterfinals.??

The strength in depth among the women is even more vexing for the authorities with the Williams sisters out on their own.??

They are, likewise, the only players to have made the last 16 on the distaff side, and such was the desperation for contenders that American TV took to promoting Maria Sharapova? defeated at the weekend? as one of their own, having been reared in Florida from age seven.??
Roddick and Blake are both eminently marketable, but there is a chasm between them in career achievement.??

Aside from his good looks and sharp humour, world No. 5 Roddick has been ranked No. 1, won the U.S Open four years ago and has been runner-up in three other Grand Slams, including Wimbledon, twice.??

The hype surrounding Blake, ranked No. 6, is more indicative of the shortage of American stars and based mainly on the fact that, apart from having similar sex appeal, he has a fascinating life story and is highly articulate.??

The least of it is that his mother, Betty, was raised in Banbury before moving to the States. Blake took up tennis after coming across Arthur Ashe at the Harlem junior tennis programme and needed to wear a back brace as a teenager due to severe curvature of the spine.??

He studied at Harvard and has flourished despite breaking his neck after running into a net post while practising in Rome three years ago.??

The hitch is that he has never won a Masters Series event nor gone past the last eight in a Grand Slam.

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