By Randy Walker
It’s a different vibe with American men’s tennis at the 2013 Australian Open.
In the first major championship in the post-Andy Roddick era, there are eight American men in the main draw singles field led by No. 20 seed Sam Querrey. None of the eight Americans – Querrey, Brian Baker, Ryan Harrison, Michael Russell, Steve Johnson, Tim Smyczek, Rajeev Ram and Rhyne Williams – have reached the quarterfinals of a major tournament, only Querrey, Baker and Russell having reached a Grand Slam fourth round in their careers.
Querrey, 25, defeated Daniel Munoz-De La Nava of Spain 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round Monday to set up a second-round match against fellow American Baker, who defeated Alex Bogomolov Jr., the former U.S. player who now plays for Russia 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-7 (0-7), 3-6, 6-2. Baker, age 27 and ranked No. 57, is playing for the first time at the Australian Open after seven years mainly off the circuit due to five surgeries over a six-year period (three hip surgeries, one elbow surgery and one hernia injury). A win over Querrey in the second-round would certainly get the attention of U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier, who is expected to name his US team that will face Brazil in the Davis Cup first round next week. At this time last year, Baker was ranked No. 456 in the world.
Harrison, 20, who some have labeled as the successor to Roddick as the top dog of the next generation of American men’s tennis, posted a confidence-building 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 win over Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, the same man who defeated him easily in the first round of the 2012 Olympics, causing Harrison to erupt in on-court tantrums that prompted him to make a nationally-televised apology to Pat O’Brien on the NBC-networks in the United States. Harrison, ranked No. 62, now has the dubious distinction and fantastic opportunity of playing No. 1 seed and two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in the second round.
Michael Russell, age 34 and ranked No. 94, was defeated by No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
Steve Johnson, the former two-time NCAA champion from USC, fought admirably against No. 10 Nicolas Almagro of Spain but was defeated in five sets, 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-7(8-6), 6-2. Johnson, ranked No. 175, won three matches to qualify for his first Australian Open, including a 17-15 in the third-set win in the first round over Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Tim Smyczek, the 25-year-old ranked No. 126 who qualified for the main draw as a lucky loser, posted a 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-6 over the fading but still big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic.
There are only two American men in the bottom half of the draw – qualifier Ram, ranked No. 131, who plays Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain and Williams, the winner of the USTA’s Australian Open wild card playoff ranked No. 194, who plays Florian Mayer of Germany.
In addition to Roddick being absent from the season’s first major, John Isner, the top-ranking US man at No. 13, was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. Former top tenner Mardy Fish, ranked No. 27, is still sidelined from tennis due to a heart condition, but is anticipated to return to tennis next month.
When asked if he felt like the leader of the American men’s pack in Australia, Querrey answered to reporters in Australia, “I don’t feel like I am. I feel like the No. 2 American even though John (Isner) is not here, which is unfortunate. … Everyone keeps asking me about it but it’s a complete non-issue, something I don’t even think about. I see myself as the No. 2 American right now.”
When asked whether he feels like the U.S. leader, Querrey quipped, “Serena (Williams) is probably the real leader. A lot of the younger guys are here so I guess a little bit. I’m just doing the best I can. I don’t feel like too much of a leader.”
With Isner and Fish’s health issues, Querrey and Baker could be the singles line-up for Courier in the U.S. Davis Cup team’s first round match against Brazil, Feb. 1-3 in Jacksonville, Fla.