It was a perfect moment for a line and Andy Roddick's timing and delivery were almost impeccable after he had won the U.S. Open in 2003.
"No more, 'What's it feel like to be the future of American tennis [stuff]?' " he said as he took a seat in the interview room. The newly crowned champion had a point. Not only had he been asked the question, directly and indirectly, almost daily, but it also seemed as though Roddick alone was shouldering the burden of U.S. tennis.
This issue never came up on the women's side in those days. Not with Venus and Serena Williams having combined for four consecutive U.S. Open titles, and Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport each having won three singles championships in Grand Slam events.
Maybe it should have come up.
If anything, the continued scrutiny of the U.S. men - Roddick's 2003 Open victory remains his only Slam triumph - helped camouflage the lack of depth in the U.S. women's game. The only American female, other than the Williams sisters and Davenport, to win a WTA Tour title in 2004 or 2005 was Amy Frazier, who beat Shinobu Asagoe of Japan in Hobart, Australia, in January 2004.
Frazier will turn 33 on Sept. 19.
Those who've wondered about American tennis in the post-Davenport, post-Williams era got a sneak preview in Southern California earlier this month. That glimpse into the future was bleak.
With the three stars out because of injuries or illness, there were no American women in the quarterfinals at the Acura Classic in Carlsbad or the JP Morgan Chase Open in Carson. In the latter tournament, there wasn't even an American among the 16 top seeds.
Asked if the cupboard was a bit bare, one of the sport's best-known coaches, Nick Bollettieri, said, "Perhaps more than bare."
As of yesterday, there were four U.S. women ranked in the top 50 - top-10 players Davenport and the Williamses, and 32-year-old Lisa Raymond, who is 47th. Lurking just outside the top 50 is Capriati, who has not played since late 2004 because of shoulder surgery.
As for 18-year-old U.S. prodigies in the top 50, there are none. Jamea Jackson (No. 91), who turns 19 on Sept. 7, and Angela Haynes (No. 95), who is 20, are about as good as it gets in the top 100.
The view wasn't much rosier a few thousand miles away from Bollettieri's Florida office. Robert Lansdorp, the former mentor of Tracy Austin and Davenport, works with Sharapova when she is in the Southern California area.
"Once Davenport stops and either Venus or Serena says, 'This is it,' it's going to be very difficult to find American females to step up there," Lansdorp said.
"I think it's going to be a bad scene, and it's going to take awhile to get another American to get to the top."
With the U.S. Open starting tomorrow, Austin herself addressed the issue on a conference call Thursday. The two-time U.S. Open champion, now a television commentator, was a true prodigy, winning her first pro title at 14 and becoming No. 1 in 1980 at 17.
Austin was asked why there were no Michelle Wies in tennis, and whether girls were now choosing golf instead of tennis.
"I'm not particularly worried about women's golf vs. tennis," she said. "But I am worried that I don't see any top young ones coming up. I think there are plenty that are trying to make it, but it seems like right now the Russians are beating us to the punch."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
When: Tomorrow to Sept. 11
Where: USTA National Tennis Center, New York
Top seeds: Men, Roger Federer. Women, Maria Sharapova.
Defending champions: Men, Roger Federer. Women, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
TV: USA Network and CBS
U.S. Open seeds
Top 16 men
1. Roger Federer, Switzerland
2. Rafael Nadal, Spain
3. Lleyton Hewitt, Australia
4. Andy Roddick, United States
5. Marat Safin, Russia
6. Nikolay Davydenko, Russia
7. Andre Agassi, United States
8. Guillermo Coria, Argentina
9. Gaston Gaudio, Argentina
10. Mariano Puerta, Argentina
11. David Nalbandian, Argentina
12. Tim Henman, Britain
13. Richard Gasquet, France
14. Thomas Johansson, Sweden
15. Dominik Hrbaty, Slovakia
16. Radek Stepanek, Czech Republic
Top 16 women
1. Maria Sharapova, Russia
2. Lindsay Davenport, United States
3. Amelie Mauresmo, France
4. Kim Clijsters, Belgium
5. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia
6. Elena Dementieva, Russia
7. Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium
8. Serena Williams, United States
9. Nadia Petrova, Russia
10. Venus Williams, United States
11. Patty Schnyder, Switzerland
12. Mary Pierce, France
13. Anastasia Myskina, Russia
14. Alicia Molik, Australia
15. Nathalie Dechy, France
16. Elena Bovina, Russia (withdrew)