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By Chris Oddo | Saturday, August 23, 2014

John Isner French Open 2014

American men need to embrace playing in Europe on red clay if they intend to end their current 11-year Grand Slam title drought, Brad Gilbert says.

Photo Source: Peter Staples

Brad Gilbert, speaking Friday in an ESPN conference call ahead of this year’s US Open, expressed his views on the importance of clay-court tennis as well as finding and seeking out the best competition for America's aspiring pros. The former top-ranked American and past coach of Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray is not hopeful that the American's can make a dent in this year's US Open.

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American men have won 51 Grand Slams in the Open Era, but not a single major title since 2003, and the ATP's top ten--once the birthright of American men--does not include an American either.

"I would love to see two guys make the second week. I mean, having somebody say we’re making the semis or finals is a pipe dream,” Gilbert said.

But the current ESPN commentator is convinced that there is something that could help bring American men’s tennis back to prominence: More experience in Europe on the red clay. In the past, Americans got away with a distaste for Europe because there were so many tour events in the U.S. Most of the top players at that time were American as well, so practicing with the best was not a problem for our aspiring stars. Not anymore.

"Back in the ’70s and ’80s, you had a lot more mid-level tournaments in the U.S. and there were a lot more top U.S. players," said Patrick McEnroe, head of player development for the USTA, who was also on the conference call. "The world has changed."

When asked why Americans don’t like playing in Europe by a reporter, Gilbert was ready with his reply. Here it is, in its entirety:

“Weak excuses. That’s all I’m going to say. Weak excuses. Now you can travel anywhere and you can have your computer, your iPad, your TV from your TiVo. You can Face Time with anybody. In 1980 when I traveled to Asia, you didn’t have a computer, if you got a fax from the New York Times, you were loving life. You could get a Herald Tribune occasionally.

“To me the best men’s players are all from Europe. You need to go over there and be there, play on clay, finding and being with them. [European players] have to make a sacrifice coming over to Palm Springs, Key Biscayne. They do it. None of our guys go to Monte Carlo. The only ones that get it are the Bryan twins. They show up at Monte Carlo and don’t come back until after Wimbledon. Hence, they’ve had great success. They don’t fear being there.

"To me now is the opportunity for our young players to say, ‘You know what, we don’t have the best players in the world like we used to, now we want to be with the best players in the world, competing against them, whether or not that’s playing challengers, whether or not that’s embracing it.’ If you talk yourself into [being intimidated by] the culture, the language, whatever, then you start thinking about excuses and it affects your game. As a tennis player, you must embrace the opportunity and go there and be with the best players. It will make you a better player.

“I 100% believe to be a great player you have to be a great clay court player. There is no other way.”

McEnroe agrees. “All in all, Brad is spot on, that we need to get our guys to be able to deal with it and they need to get out there and grind it out and play on clay and be successful," he added. "You need to be a great player. To be a great player, you need to be able to play from the backcourt. That’s just the way the game is being played these days.”


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