Young Guns Poised to Save U.S. Tennis, 2021 Version

Over five years ago (I can't believe it's been that long), I wrote this article about American juniors poised to become the future of American men's tennis.

The focus of the article was about four American guys who were dominating junior tennis at the time: Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Frances Tiafoe, and Tommy Paul.

The good news is, none of them have proven to be a bust. At this writing, all of them are ranked 62nd or higher in the world, and all but Paul have an ATP title to their name.

The bad news is, none of them have become breakout stars. The four have managed only one Grand Slam quarterfinal between them (Tiafoe, Australian Open 2019), and there are plenty of other guys on tour now who are younger than them and either already have accomplished more, or are really getting to that point.

I noted in the article that no American has reached a slam semifinal since 2009, and that streak has been broken by Sam Querrey at Wimbledon in 2017, but he lost in that semi, and to be honest, his semifinal run was a bit fluky (he has since won one tour event).

I didn't mention it at the time, but American men also had a long drought of ATP 1000 event successes (that's the tier of tournaments just below slams), and that also has been broken, but by Jack Sock (who has completely fallen off the face of the earth) and John Isner. At the time of my article, Isner was the top-ranked American, and had been for some time. Now in February 2021, he still is, at age 35.

So is new help on the horizon? Maybe, but not like in 2015. That was a charmed time when Americans absolutely crushed the junior tour and won three straight junior slams. Since then, only one American junior has won a slam. He's also No. 1 on our new list:

Sebastian Korda (age 20) — For those of us who care about U.S. representation in international sporting events, we really owe a debt of gratitude to Petr Korda, the former Czech tennis player who settled in the U.S. and gave us not only son Sebastian, but his daughters Jessica and Nelly have won nine LPGA events between them.

Sebastian won the 2018 Australian Open boys tournament, and he has started 2021 ridiculously strong, making the finals of the ATP Delray Beach Open and following that up with a Challenger Tour victory in Quimper, France, beating Filip Horansky in the finals, 6-1, 6-1. He seems ready to bust out.

Brandon Nakashima (age 19) — Nakashima also competed in Quimper and made the semifinals, losing in three sets to Horansky. The success of the young Americans in Quimper is worth noting because Americans do not typically do well in mainland Europe, regardless of the surface.

Nakashima has also had success at Delray Beach, making the quarterfinals there in 2020, and won the ITF Junior Masters in 2018.

Emilio Nava (age 19) — Between singles (2) and doubles (2), Nava made a whopping four appearances in junior slam finals in 2018 and 2019.

Alas, he lost them all, and he spent 2020 grinding Futures events (the third tier of professional tennis), finishing the year with a 17-13 record and no titles. Still, his junior pedigree dictates that we keep an eye on him.

Maxime Cressy (age 23) — It might be cheating a bit to include a 23-year-old on the list, but Cressy is an interesting and fun case. He came out of nowhere to start winning Challenger titles in 2019, and is quite ... vocal on the court. He since (sadly) has seemed to tone it down a bit, but he's started the year off by qualifying for next week's Australian Open, and lost a heartbreaker in one of his first ATP main draw events last night to former top-40 player Pierre-Hugues Herbert. He's one to watch.

Honorable Mention — Jenson Brooksby (age 20, beat Tomas Berdych in 2019 U.S. Open), Martin Damm (age 17, No. 3-ranked world junior) Toby Kodat (age 18, No. 4-ranked world junior).

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