Tennis: For Pete's sake, US needs Wimbledon champion

LONDON (AFP) - It has been almost 10 years, while 38 Grand Slams have passed since the United States, once the undisputed heavyweight champion of world tennis, was able to salute a men's trophy winner at the majors.

Nobody expects that record decline to be suddenly reversed at Wimbledon from next week.

Pete Sampras was the last American man to win in London when he captured his seventh title in 2000, before Andy Roddick suffered three heartbreaking final losses to Roger Federer in 2004, 2005 and 2009.

Since then, the only American man to trouble the All England Club engravers was John Isner, whose name now adorns a plaque on Court 18 to recognise his winning role in the world's longest tennis match in 2010.

"I like to compete. And especially when you're playing in a Grand Slam, you want to go out competing," said Isner, who became part of Wimbledon folklore after beating Nicolas Mahut in that famous 2010 first-round clash.

The 28-year-old American won the final set 70-68 in a match which took three days to complete.

But Isner would rather be winning Wimbledon than forever being associated with a first-round tie as he tries to improve on a woeful record at the All England Club where he had yet to get beyond the second round.

Only once at any major - the 2011 US Open - has he managed to reach a quarter-final.

It's all a far cry from the glory years of Sampras or Andre Agassi, the 1992 champion, three-time winner John McEnroe (1981, 1983 and 1984) and double champion Jimmy Connors (1974 and 1982).

Isner is no longer even the American No.1, with the mantle having passed to Sam Querrey, the 25-year-old world No.19.

But the latter too has an underwhelming track record at the majors.

His best Wimbledon performance was a last-16 run in 2010 backed up by similar fourth-round spots at the US Open in 2008 and 2010.

Ryan Harrison, 21, who will be one of 12 US men in the main draw at Wimbledon, has long been touted as the next big thing in American tennis.

But like Isner and Querrey, he has struggled by being thrust into the space created by the shock retirement last year of Roddick, the country's last Grand Slam champion at the 2003 US Open, and Mardy Fish's ongoing health problems.

Harrison won his first tour-level match at just 15 and cracked the top 100 as an 18-year-old in July 2011.

His ranking rose to 43 in July last year but his progress has stalled and he will go into Wimbledon at 84 in the world.

As well as the universal draining effects of the Grand Slam monopoly exercised by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Harrison believes that US men's tennis needs a high-profile role model to get more youngsters playing the game.

"You've got to have a guy who's American and winning a lot, because then kids have something to look up to," he said.

"For the most part over the last seven, eight years, you turn on the TV to watch the Australian Open final or the final at Wimbledon, whatever, you can count on one hand the guys you've been seeing over and over.

"That's what tennis in the States needs to have someone who is really being an idol to the kids growing up, making them say, I want to get in that position; I want to be like that."