- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2011

MADRID (AP) - Tennis will be without a top-10 American man or woman next week for the first time in the 38-year history of the sport’s rankings.

Serena Williams is ranked 10th but is projected to drop out. She hasn’t played since winning Wimbledon because of injuries and could drop as low as No. 19 in the WTA rankings depending on this week’s Madrid Open.

The rankings Monday will mark the first time since the men’s list was created in 1973 and the women’s list in 1975 that no American is represented.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the U.S. is ranked 41st and will improve to No. 38 after reaching the quarterfinals of the Madrid tournament this week. She said the U.S. needs to change the way it develops players and points to a variety of reasons for the low rankings, from pressure to burnout to work ethic.

Mardy Fish dropped from the No. 10 spot last week to leave no American male player in the top 10. Former No. 1 Andy Roddick has bounced in and out but currently sits 12th _ one better than Fish.

Williams has yet to return from two foot operations and treatment for a blood clot in her lung. Sister Venus Williams, currently No. 16, will drop down after being sidelined since the Australian Open with a hip injury. The seven-time Grand Slam champion is expected to return at Eastbourne next month in preparation for Wimbledon, while 13-time Grand Slam winner Serena has said she will return sometime in the summer.

The U.S. is the most successful country when it comes to top-ranked players. The Williams sisters are among seven former top-ranked women, while Roddick is the last of six top-ranked players on the men’s side.

Mattek-Sands bowed out to seventh-ranked Li Na of China 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 Friday in Madrid. She said some players from other countries have a hunger to achieve.

“In other countries there’s a little more of that grit to get out of where they’re coming from. Take some of the Russians, they’re trying to get out of there _ make some money, and get out of there. The U.S. have it too good,” Mattek-Sands told The Associated Press and one other major news agency at the Caja Magica on Friday.

“It will take some people getting out of their comfort zone.”

Eight Russian players are ranked ahead of Mattek-Sands, with two in the top 10. Earlier this year, the top-10 was made up of 10 players from different countries. The last time there were no American women in the top group was May 20, 2007.

So are American players getting too comfortable? Or has the talent pool just grown deeper?

Mattek-Sands believes it’s a bit of both.

“Some people stop because they don’t like sport any more, a lot of kids were pushed when they were young and they hate tennis now,” said Mattek-Sands, a regular on the U.S. Fed Cup team who has yet to win a top-level event.

“I’ve seen a ton of juniors not make it _ nobody’s playing anymore, nobody’s playing. Where are they now? They don’t even touch tennis rackets.”

The news is worse on the men’s side. Former top-ranked players were Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open, ahead of the longest drought in major singles titles during the Open era for the Americans.

“A new generation has to come,” said top-ranked Spanish player Rafael Nadal. “(Roddick) has enough potential to (get back into the top-10). Sam Querrey, John Isner, (Ryan) Harrison: These guys have to come and be there in the future _ that’s the new generation.”

While Americans aren’t racking up Grand Slams, they did combine to win nine singles titles in 2010 to trail only the Spanish players. Four American men finished the year in the top 20 for the first time since 1999.

Mattek-Sands, known for her knee-high socks and unusual tennis clothes, said she would never consider herself the top American unless she cracks the top 10.

“There’s a lot of talent out there, but it’s just tough right now. A lot of juniors get injured and their flame gets put out before they get a chance to go out on tour,” she said. “There is a lot of pressure in the U.S. to be No. 1.”


Paul Logothetis can be followed at https://twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

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