Ranking American Men on the Emirates Airlines US Open Series

The Emirates Airlines US Open Series is in full swing this summer as the ATP World Tour focuses in on North American hard court tennis. The tour has already stopped in Atlanta for an ATP 250, is now in Washington for an ATP 500, and has stops remaining at the Masters Series 1000 level tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati, along with another 250 in Winston-Salem before the US Open takes center stage from the National Tennis Center in New York City.

American men have or will take part in all of the tour stops on the US Open Series, and are likely to feature prominently in both the qualifying and early rounds of the tournament, as hard courts are the national surface. That said, it’s been over a decade since the USA had a Grand Slam singles winner on the men’s side, and with just a single top 20 player, it’s unlikely that American men will threaten for titles in the big Masters tournaments, or the US Open. That said, summer prospects aren’t entirely bleak if you’re a fan of team USA as a crop of young guns is coming up and looking to make some noise, while a generation just past that “young gun” stage is finally maturating into a solid group of ATP main draw level players week in and week out.

Here is a look at the rankings for American men who will take part in the US Open Series at the moment, with their ATP ranking, form, and potential all taken into account. A companion piece to this will touch on the careers of retiring American men Mardy Fish, Robby Ginepri and Michael Russell. It’s worth noting the USA Davis Cup team should have plenty of options in the coming years.

1: John Isner

Isner, now 30, sits at #18 in the world and has posted a solid 29-14 record on the season with one ATP title, which he just captured in Atlanta, where he had another dominant run. He started working with former ATP pro Justin Gimelstob this season, and while his results haven’t been career changing, the players coach Gimelstob did push him to the semifinals in Miami earlier this spring. Isner upset top players Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori there, and after a poor start to his season, his big serve and big game seems to have sorted itself out. Going into the US Open Series, where Isner tends to make the majority of his ranking points, he appears to be in fine form, now in the quarterfinals of the Citi Open in D.C., with a chance at the title.

Isner has never made it beyond the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam, and he’s only reached the quarterfinals of a slam once, at the US Open. His large frame has hurt his conditioning, along with his ability to stay healthy long term, and he simply does not do well with best 3 out of 5 set matches, especially fifth sets. With that in mind, while he once reached a Masters final (Cincy 2013), at 30 his career has likely reached it’s peak in the 15-20 ranking range. Isner is a threat in smaller tournaments, but he’s not likely to make any deep runs in Slams, and even going deep in Masters isn’t a guarantee. Credit to him for recovering from a slow start to the season and putting together what should be another top 20 year.

2: Jack Sock

Sock, who is now 22, still qualifies as a young gun and he’s had a solid season since returning from hip surgery. His world class forehand has powered him to a 19-9 record, and he’s now in the quarterfinals of D.C. after upsetting Richard Gasquet. Jack also won his first ATP title this season in Houston, and that came on the heels of round of 32, and round of 16 results in Indian Wells and Miami where he scored some quality wins. Sock also reached the semis on grass in Newport, after a poor Wimbledon showing, and the second week of the French Open after upsetting Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric. Lastly, his top 10 doubles ability can’t be overlooked as he continues to form an elite pairing with Vasek Pospisil.

For Sock the key has been consistency, and continuing to better his conditioning, in Atlanta he suffered a poor loss to countryman Denis Kudla, as he struggles with the heat, and he wasn’t entirely fit heading into Wimbledon either. He also still needs to build out the rest of his game besides his forehand, and improved volley skills.

Should he make that leap within the next year or two, or perhaps even this summer, he could well reach the top 15, and perhaps even the top 10. Winning a slam, or even reaching a slam final will be an immense challenge, but his forehand is up there with accomplished players such as Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco, and Fernando Gonzalez. I have a feeling Sock will be the American #1 this time next year, especially if he can improve his Grand Slam results.

3: Steve Johnson

Johnson, 24-19 on the season, is just outside the top 50 and has put together a career best year already, with more ATP wins than any previous year on tour. The former college standout is finally cementing his place as an ATP regular, and as one would expect, he does his best on hard courts.

He’s in the quarterfinals of D.C., along with Sock and Isner, and has three other ATP quarterfinals on his record this season, all on hard court, and the previous results coming back before the clay court season. His game is built around his forehand, and his shot selection has improved, along with his fitness. This year he has upset Bernard Tomic twice, including on grass, and just beat Grigor Dimitrov in D.C..

Johnson doesn’t possess as much starpower and peak potential as Sock and some of the other young Americans on this list, but he could capture an ATP title within the next year, and at a minimum he’s clearly on the rise, though it will take more effort to reach that next level of the top 30. Credit to him for having the right attitude, and putting in work to get results, as he’s an unheralded solid example of ATP success. He’s the type of player the top players would not enjoy to face in the early rounds of the US Open, and if he can improve his slam results his ranking should get a boost.

4: Sam Querrey

Querrey, who has spent the early part of summer playing World Team Tennis, continues to remain a bit of an odd bird on the ATP tour. He’s just 27, and remains in the top 40, but he can’t really be thought of a serious contender in the biggest tournaments. He hasn’t won an ATP title since 2012, though he did reach the final in Nottingham this year on grass and in Houston this year on clay (lost to Sock). Sam has an inconsistent 17-17 record on tour this year, and is a surprisingly abysmal 5-8 on hard courts as he comes off a round 2 loss at the Citi Open.

Commitment and focus has always been an issue for Querrey, and with his mediocre hard court record, the US Open Series and the US Open isn’t likely to hold much promise for what is at this point, the forgotten American man in the top 100.

5: Denis Kudla

Dynamite Denis is having a career year, he’s just 22 like Sock, and he’s now in the top 80, having put together the best season of his career. He’s 8-9 at the ATP main draw level, but 29-12 outside of that level and has been on fire since he started working with coach Billy Heiser (of Tim Smyczek fame) at the start of the grass court season. Kudla is 17-4 since then, with a challenger title and final on grass, a round of 16 at Wimbledon, his best ever slam result, and a semifinal showing in Atlanta. Likely due to fatigue, he was bounced out of his home tournament in Washington round 1, but the US Open series, and the US Open still holds great promise for him.

Kudla is a fantastic baseline ball striker and hits the ball cleanly off both wings. He has a weak serve, especially second serve, and he’s not as quick as some of the defensive baseliners on tour, but with his more varied game, and a shot selection built for fast surfaces, he’s a player who is better than his current ranking, and could reach the top 50 before the end of the season.

When he wants to bring power from the baseline he certainly can and with wins over fellow Americans Sock, Jared Donaldson, and Ryan Harrison this season he’s certainly cemented himself in the top 5 of American men. He also beat young gun Thanasi Kokkinakis in Memphis this season.

Kudla was just a match away from his first ATP final in Atlanta, and I have a feeling he will also reach an ATP final within the next year, just as Sock captured his maiden title this season. I also see Kudla as a possible US Open dark horse, depending on his draw.

6: Jared Donaldson

Donaldson, an 18 year old, is the top American teenager at #150 in the world, and he continues to rise. This is his first full season as a pro, and the transition appears to be going smoothly, as he trained as a junior outside of the USTA system, including spending a lot of time on red clay in Argentina. Donaldson was never thought of as a “top” junior, but after qualifying in Atlanta and reaching the round of 16, along with a challenger title at the start of the season in Hawaii, he’s clearly a name to watch during this US Open Series.

Last year JD got a main draw wild card to the US Open, and he may well get another, as he’s shown himself to be deserving of it. If he does not, he still has a great chance to qualify, and the same goes for the two Masters tournaments this summer. Jared, who is coached by former ATP pro and serve and volley specialist Taylor Dent, maintains a positive attitude and demeanor on court and comes across as very humble. He also seems to deal with pressure well as he maturates.

He’s a solid mover with good footwork and a strong foundation with his game. He still can improve in most areas, but reaching the top 100 before the end of the season is a possibility. It’s hard to tell how his career will shake out, with no real basis of junior success to go off of, and such a small sample size of pro matches thus far.

7: Frances Tiafoe

Tiafoe, 17, turned pro this season and promptly signed with Jay-Z’s sports agent firm, he has a great life story, and a passionate attitude on and off court that is likely to turn him into a fan favorite for years to come. That said, it’s taking time for the results to match the hype and the excitement around this young gun, as he has yet to win an ATP main draw match (0-4).

The son of immigrants, he grew up at a tennis facility in the Washington D.C. area, and comes from a humble background. He had a great junior career, winning the Orange Bowl, and his strong play on green clay challengers in the states this year earned him the USTA main draw wild card into the French Open, where he lost to Martin Klizan in straight sets. Donaldson appears to be ahead of him in in terms of growth at the moment, as Tiafoe needs to work on his body language and attitude on court, that said, he appears to have a solid serve and a good forehand, and with an all-court game that should produce results on both hard and clay.

He is likely to feature in US Open qualies if he doesn’t get a main draw wild card, and he lost a tough match in Atlanta to Sam Groth in his first tournament on the US Open series. Tiafoe appears to have fantastic fitness and he’s now inside the top 300, with a chance at top 200 before years end. Tiafoe has top 20 potential, and should reach the top 100 before his time as a teenager comes to an end.

8: Ryan Harrison

 

It feels like Harrison has been on tour forever, but he’s just 23 and still has time to regain that saw him reach the top 50 three seasons ago. The defensive baseliner, who combines speed defensive with a big serve for his size, an odd combo, is outside the top 100 and is in poor form at the moment.

Ryan qualified for the Citi Open and in Memphis, and a semifinal in Acapulco, along with a challenger title to start the season are his best results on the year. He’s clearly at his best on hard courts, and for a few days down in Mexico it appeared he may finally be building himself back into a top player as he beat Ivo Karlovic and Grigor Dimitrov as a qualifier. That said, it’s basically been downhill from there and he hasn’t won an ATP main draw match since he beat the retiring Mardy Fish in Indian Wells. His attitude and demeanor seems to have improved, but his style doesn’t seem to lend itself top 80 tennis, as he lacks consistency.

I don’t see Harrison getting beyond where he did as a young gun unless he changes up his game style and starts playing more aggressively to go with his serve, otherwise he’s destined to languish in fringe tour status.

9: Tommy Paul

Paul, 18, is another American young gun, he decided to turn pro this summer rather than attending the University of Georgia and promptly signed with Nike, which demonstrates his star potential marketing wise.

The New Jersey native won the 2015 French Open boys title and has already won two futures titles as well in his career. He has he potential to be the best American clay court player in quite some time, but on hard courts and faster surfaces he needs to work on his aggression. Tommy has great defensive ability and is rather quick on his feet, and though he failed to qualify in Atlanta, he’ll have more chances to qualify coming up. It’s not likely we will hear a lot from him this season on the main tour, but in a year or two it’s likely his name will be in the occasional ATP main draw at a minimum.

10: Tim Smyczek

Smyczek, 27, has made a solid career for himself at this point, and made his move intp the ATP ranks this year. That said, the steady but relatively weaponless ball striker is struggling at the moment, and he could well see himself slip back outside the top 100 and to the Challenger tour with his small frame.

He achieved folk hero status with his match against Nadal at the Australian Open but he’s just 5-12 at the main tour level this year (15-6 off of it) with five straight losses presently. Since the Spring, where he did well in challengers, he’s been struggling, and battling on the ATP tour on a weekly basis is proving to much for him at the moment. He’s one of the nicest guys on tour but it may be hard for him to rise higher than where he has this season.

Honorable Mention: Donald Young, Rajeev Ram, Austin Krajicek, Alexander Sarkissian, Noah Rubin

Young, who sits at 75 in the rankings, is playing the US Open series, but he’s in the midst of another slump, and once more his lack of mental fortitude is showing itself. He scored a nice win over Tommy Haas at the Citi Opn before falling round 2 and prior to that he went 0-3 on grass, and had a poor match in Atlanta as well, his home tournament. The former top junior reached a final this year in Delray Beach, and that along with Semis in Memphis made it seem like he may be turning a corner, but it was not to be, and it’s unlikely his career will ever be what it could have been.

Ram, a 31 year old doubles specialist, won the title in Newport on grass and also won a match in Bogota, showing he might be able to cause some upsets in singles this summer with his serve and volley game. That said the Indian-American was injured and had to pull out of the Citi Open, and he’s otherwise a journeyman.

Krajicek, 25, sits just outside the top 130, and went the college route to the tour like Johnson and Isner. He has a solid defensive game but lacks weaponry, and his poor backhand and serve has limited his ability to reach the ATP level. He’s just 3-8 on the season at that level though he qualified for Acapulco, Memphis, Miami, and Atlanta. won a challenger title, and notably upset Ivo Karlovic. A move to the top 100 is the next goal for him, but he’ll need to continue to qualify for the main tour.

Sarkissian, a 25 year old former college player, won his first ATP main draw match in Bogota not long ago and has posted a fantastic 43-16 record below the ATP level this season. Like Johnson, he could well make a breakthrough in the near future, and he has three titles this season (two futures, and a challenger title).

Rubin, a New Yorker, is likely to get a lot of publicity at his home US Open, the 19 year old, who has ties to John McEnroe, spent a year at Wake Forest university where he was a solid player and achieved All-American status, and now has turned pro. He’s still 0-3 in his career at the tour main draw level, but at 19 he has a lot of room for improvement. Noah was the 2014 Wimbledon boy’s champion and should at least feature in US Open qualifying. Ranked outside the top 500 presently, it’s hard to tell how good of a player he will become.

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