American men exit early, but no need to worry

Despite early-round exits at the Australian Open, Luke Jensen writes that Americans Robby Ginepri and James Blake can play with almost anyone.

Updated: January 21, 2006, 7:14 PM ET
By Luke Jensen | Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The United States came to the Australian Open with four seeded players on the men's side: No. 2 Andy Roddick, No. 13 Robby Ginepri, No. 20 James Blake and No. 27 Taylor Dent.

Entering the final day of the first week, there's just one American left in the draw and that's Roddick.

Despite losing in the second and third rounds, respectively, Ginepri and Blake have turned a corner where they really think they can win a major. They came here to win the title. It's disappointing that they lost early, but they will learn from this experience. It's a good lesson and they will make the necessary adjustments.

Blake has so much talent and game range as far as being able to do so many different things. It's matter of finding the right balance between power, control and shot selection. Ginepri has to get tougher mentally. You have to beat the players you are supposed to beat before you get to the big dogs.

Last year's U.S. Open showed Blake and Ginepri can play with everyone -- well, maybe not Roger Federer -- but they aren't concerned with that. If the draw breaks right they have the ability to beat the field and win a Slam.

Dent is still searching, but he's worked so very hard. He's in better shape and has his body fat down from 18 to 10 percent. He will find his way through the season and I think he will have a good year. Following the Australian Open, the hard-court season starts in the United States. The surface is not as slow as Australia's and plays with big, high bounces. Dent grew up on hard courts. He'll be OK.

The United States has a bunch of guys who are trying to get to that next level, but it's very hard when every one of them has a special quality.

The players are so good in today's game and, when you get a court such as the ones at the Australian Open (Rebound Ace) that are a little slower, that takes away from a powerful Blake or Ginepri forehand. It's an equalizer that slowed down their weapons just enough.

Williams sisters revisited
A massive dropoff in performance by both Venus and Serena Williams. People have been talking about their fitness levels. Fitness is very important, but the Williams sisters are so good it doesn't matter.

The huge sign for me is that you can't ignore is coaching. You need it. I don't care how talented you are, you can't just show up at a Grand Slam with your agent, hitting partner and mother and expect to win.

In the third round, Serena was down 3-1 in the first set with Daniela Hantuchova dictating the game. Then there was the rain delay and that would have been the perfect time for a coach to sit her down, go over the game plan, make subtle adjustments and decide where to go with the match.

Supposedly Serena's mom talked to her. My mom took me to a lot of tournaments, but I wouldn't say she's the authority on making a game plan. Parents are life coaches. A tennis coach makes you a better tennis player.

Look at Roger Federer. He's working with Tony Roche, a Hall of Famer. It makes a big difference when you can consult with somebody in the locker room during a match who actually has been in that situation.

There are so many things that Federer does outside the court that people do not even see. He prepares for these tournaments months in advance. A tournament can be won a month or two before depending on how you prepare your body and mind for a battle. Lindsay Davenport is doing that right now with her new coach, David Dilucia. She's really ready to rock and roll here.

Former ATP Tour pro Luke Jensen is providing ESPN.com with analysis during the Australian Open. Jensen, a two-time All-American at USC, captured the 1993 French Open doubles crown with his brother Murphy.