Young Guns Poised to Save U.S. Tennis, 2023 Version

This, I'm happy to report, may well be the last of my irregular survey on men's U.S. tennis returning the glory days of the '80s when they dominated the sport. That is because the guys have pretty much arrived.

There are a whopping 15 U.S. men in the top 100. When I last wrote about them in February 2021, I said, (in speaking of 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."

Now, Fritz has garnered a slam quarterfinal (Wimbledon 2022) and has climbed to 8th in the rankings. Tiafoe made a run to the U.S. Open semifinals last year. Paul has picked up a title. All four are in the top 48 in the live rankings, and that floor might have been higher, but Opelka has been injured for months.

Best of all, at this writing, no less than three American men are in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

Paul is one of them, and he has climbed to 28th in the live rankings. One is Sebastian Korda, who I also wrote about in that article. He's now 25th in the live rankings, and beat 7th-seed Daniil Medvedev and 10th-seed Hubert Hurkacz to get to the quarters.

How about the other dudes from that article? Brandon Nakishima has won two ATP titles. Jenson Brooksby, an honorable mention, is world #38 and beat 2-seed Casper Ruud in the Australian Open before falling to Paul. His style is unique on the tour, wearing out his opponents from the baseline, waiting for them to make a mistake. Maxime Cressy has won an ATP tournament and is ranked 54th. Emilio Nava, Martin Damm, and Toby Kodat have yet to break out.

Never mind them, are there more American men who have excelled in junior slams we should know about since that February 2021 article? Yes, indeed! Samir Banerjee won the 2021 Wimbledon junior boys, beating fellow American Victor Lilov in the final. Michael Zheng made the final of 2022 edition. Bruno Kuzuhara won the 2022 Australian Open boys tournament.

It's not just that 15 American men are in the top 100 (going by live rankings, not delayed-by-a-week official rankings). Thirteen of those are in the top 62. I've already covered Fritz (#8), Tiafoe (14), Korda (25), Paul (28), Brooksby (38), Opelka (48), Nakashima (49), and Cressy (54).

That's eight. Who does that leave? Well John Isner, for years the American #1, is still kicking around at #41. 24-year-old J.J. Wolf has had a breakthrough at the Australian Open, making it to the fourth round and seeing his ranking climb to #47.

Marcos Giron, who at 29 is an old man compared to most guys on the list, has also had a breakthrough in the last couple of years, establishing himself as a tour fixture. He's 57th. Mackey McDonald, who knocked Rafael Nadal out of the Australian Open, is 62nd. Michael Mmoh, who parlayed his entry as a lucky loser into the main draw of the Australian Open into a third round berth, and beat a (granted, injured, as was Nadal vs. McDonald) #12 seed Alex Zverev on the way, has seen his ranking climb to a career-high #82.

Rounding out the American men in the top 100 is Denis Kudla, who, at 30, comes back strong every time I try to write him off. He's 93rd. Waiting in the wings is Christopher Eubanks, who possesses a dominant serve and a #103 ranking.

I've left off one name. He's 20, and over a year younger than anyone else I've mentioned here. He went unnoticed by me in his junior career by going the college route instead, where he's the reigning NCAA men's singles champion (he played for his Dad at Florida).

He started really making a lot of deep runs in Challenger events in the latter part of last year, and tennis twitter was anointing him as the Chosen One, which I found annoying and premature. But it would seem I was wrong. He, too, is in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, his ranking has shot up to 43rd, and his matchup in the quarters against Paul guarantees an American in the semifinal.

Ben Shelton, come one down.

Now, can one of you guys actually make a slam final (hasn't happened since Andy Roddick in 2009) or win one (Roddick, 2003)? I'd appreciate it.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site