The 2012 Australian Open acted as another shock to the American tennis system, as those flying the red, white and blue Down Under failed to make an impact.
There were 21 Americans competing in main draw singles competition at the first Grand Slam of the year -- 11 men and 10 women. So how many Yanks traveled beyond the fourth round and into the second week? How about none.
The last woman standing was Serena Williams, who was blindsided in the fourth round by unheralded Russian Ekaterina Makarova, 6-2, 6-3. Five women didn't get past the first round, two made it to the second round and Christina McHale journeyed to the third round.
The last American man standing was John Isner, whose luck in five-setters ran out when he tumbled in the third round to Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-7 (0), 6-1. Two key names said goodbye in the second round: Andy Roddick, who retired to Lleyton Hewitt after the third set with a hamstring injury, and Mardy Fish, who didn't show top-10 form in a straight-sets loss to Alejandro Falla of Colombia. Sam Querrey, returning from a season of injury, reached the second round, as did Donald Young. Ryan Harrison lost to Andy Murray in the first round, but at least he played confident tennis to win the first set.
The dismal Australian Open demonstration adds more fuel to the fire for American tennis fans to ask the all too familiar question: What's to become of American tennis?
The days of American players routinely scoring Grand Slam titles are in the past -- at least for now. The last American man to be a champion at a major was Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. Williams owns 13 Grand Slam trophies, but her last two came in 2010 at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
"How concerned should American fans be?" said Mary Joe Fernandez, the U.S. Fed Cup captain and ESPN commentator. "It's a common story we've been talking about the last few years. It's sad. A country like ours that's had so much success through the years, it's a shock not to have anybody in the quarterfinals. But we have a lot of juniors that are playing, and we hope that the next generation will make a push soon."
ESPN analyst and USTA general manager of professional tennis Patrick McEnroe would like to disagree with Fernandez's perception, but he can't.
"There was a lot of optimism after the first day or two, because we had a lot of players and we were thinking we could have four, five guys in the fourth round," McEnroe said. "And then they bombed out. The end take here is a disaster, but I think we still have a lot of guys coming in."
Isner, who held up the American men the longest, agreed the American front looked dismal at Melbourne Park.
"It's very disappointing," said Isner, whose best result at a major was reaching the 2011 U.S. Open quarterfinal. "That's not a good effort from the Americans at this tournament. And you know, I knew going in today I was the last one left, and I wanted to keep on going, but [it] just didn't happen. It's very ugly, to be honest, to have no one in the Round of 16. We've got to try to rectify that next time the big tournaments roll around."
Everyone seems to understand things aren't good and that a pickup is needed. Though there's some optimism for some of the American youngsters in the pipeline, an immediate solution isn't there.
Former pro Justin Gimelstob, who now does commentary for Tennis Channel, is one of the player representatives on the ATP board of directors. Gimelstob is not predicting a quick turnaround for American tennis.
"This will be the norm and not the aberration for a while," he said. "It's going to be tough for Americans to crack through at the very top of the Grand Slams for a while. It doesn't mean that they can't, but in general it's going to take a while. It's a different sport than it was 30, 20, 10 years ago."
Gimelstob's suggestion: View American tennis with a more realistic perspective.
"It's the same old stuff," he said. "The days of America being a dominant nation; we need to recalibrate expectations. The sport's become too international. Some of the champions we have are still great champions, but they're just not going to win as much. Some of the young players we have are very talented, but they're going to take a lot more time. This has been coming for a while, and it's probably going to get worse before it gets better."
Although Gimelstob's perception might be the prevailing opinion, those in the game acknowledge that the USTA is working overtime to secure the sport's future in the United States. Among the many hires the USTA has made to resolve the tennis crisis is well-known tennis guru Jose Higueras, who is backing up McEnroe's efforts.
"The USTA is looking for [a fix]. Well, looking is not the right word, but they're using their resources, both financial and tennis expertise," said Jim Courier, a four-time Grand Slam champion who serves as the U.S. Davis Cup captain. "They've hired a lot of good people, people I believe in, because Jose Higueras changed the course of many tennis careers, including mine, and they're doing what they can."
It should be noted that the U.S. was not without any success in Australia. On the pro front, Bob and Mike Bryan reached the men's doubles final, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands teamed with Horia Tecau of Romania to win the mixed-doubles title. And there was a bright light on the junior front in Taylor Townsend, who brought home the Australian junior girl's singles title and teamed with fellow American Gabrielle Andrews to win the doubles trophy. At 15, the left-handed Townsend is an exuberant competitor possessing a mature and aggressive game beyond her years.
"We're focusing a lot of our time with the kids that we're in charge of. We are fully responsible for the 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds, and I think we have a very good group coming up," McEnroe said. "I'm not too worried about the girls, but the boys we need to be pushing."
Courier said one important step is for the USTA to bring in kids at an early age. The concept is that shorter courts, lighter balls and smaller rackets will attract youngsters because they'll feel immediately success playing the sport.
"One of the bigger applications of resources that will benefit American tennis is 10-and-under tennis, because you cast a wider net, you get better athletes," Courier said. "I love 10-and-under tennis. I think it's brilliant, and it's going to make it so much more welcoming."
There's no denying that a move to generate tennis interest is a necessity. Nevertheless, there's also a question as to whether the shortage of marquee American players leaves the U.S. short of inspiring figures for a new generation to follow.
"Winning in the juniors is great and really nice for our coaches and our program, but at the end of the day, it's about playing in the second week of the majors for the women and the men," said McEnroe. "That's the ultimate goal."
Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.