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Three American Men Squarely in US Open Contention

Arthur Ashe Stadium

The state of American men’s tennis over the last decade has left much more to be desired by fans across the United States. Since Andy Roddick retired from professional tennis at the 2012 US Open, there has not been a substantive belief that an American man could win a Grand Slam. Roddick was the last American to reach a Slam final, losing a five-set marathon in 2009 to the great Roger Federer at the All-England Club.

During his 13-year career, Roddick reached five Slam finals, winning his sole title at the 2003 US Open. He took the torch from the American greats of the ’90s, such as Aggasi, Chang, Courier, Martin, and Sampras. Unfortunately for the USTA and United States tennis fans around the country, Roddick had no one to pass the torch to upon his retirement.

This is not to disparage John Isner, who finished as the top-ranked American eight times in his career. However, the North Carolina native spent just 15 weeks inside the top ten and reached only three Slam quarterfinals, with his best result a semifinal loss to Kevin Anderson at 2018 Wimbledon. He has had a terrific career that is being rightfully honored at the 2023 US Open, but Isner was never a serious contender to win a Slam. Steve Johnson, Sam Querrey, and Jack Sock all had fruitful careers in the 2010s but were also never serious threats on the biggest stages in the sport.

This next American generation has grown up with the pressure of returning the glory to American men’s tennis, and it looks like they are ready for their breakthrough.

Fritz, Paul, & Tiafoe

Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, and Frances Tiafoe were all born within eight months of each other. Despite living in separate corners of the United States, the trio was paired at the hip as they competed and grew together in the USTA Junior Circuit. The three became mainstays on the Junior Circuit, winning titles left and right. In 2015, Paul defeated Fritz in the Junior French Open final. Three months later, Fritz got the better of Paul at the Junior US Open final.

Since all three turned pro in 2015, they have taken different amounts of time to reach various milestones. Fritz reached the first ATP final, but Tiafoe won the first ATP title. Fritz won the first Masters 1000 title, but Tiafoe was the first to reach the semifinals of a Slam. It has been a constant competitive but healthy battle between this generation of American men. Tiafoe was asked how much the American men have pushed each other throughout their careers after his Wednesday win inside Ashe.

“Tremendously. Me and Taylor are in the top ten, Tommy’s knocking on the door. You know, we all grew up together. We know each other so well, so, I think American tennis is in a great place. Hopefully we all keep going, and hopefully we stop that streak of Andy Roddick in ’03.”

The decade-plus of competing against each other has culminated with Fritz, Paul, and Tiafoe all holding top-14 seeds at the 2023 US Open. Being seeded is nice, but winning is even better. All three men are into the third round at the same Slam for just the second time in their careers (2022 Wimbledon). Not only that, but they are all poised to keep winning in New York.

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Looking at the 2023 US Open

Fritz’s dominance

No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz has been almost unplayable through two matches. He has dropped ten total games in victories over Steve Johnson and Juan Pablo Varillas. He tallied 60 winners and just 35 unforced errors in those two wins. It gets even better for Fritz, who is one win away from reaching the second week of the US Open for the first time in his career.

His quarter of the draw has completely opened up. The three other seeds in his quarter (#7 Tstisipas, #18 Musetti, & #28 Eubanks) have all lost. The top-ranked American takes on 17-year-old Jakub Mensik in Round 3 before a potential matchup between the winner of Benjamin Bonzi and Dominic Stricker in Round 4. Given Fritz’s current form and the nature of his draw, it would be a tremendous letdown if he did not reach the quarterfinals.

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Paul’s escape act

On Wednesday, Tommy Paul overcame a two-set deficit to take down the in-form Roman Safiullin 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3. It was the first such comeback of Paul’s career, and you could tell how much it meant to him. The typically stoic and lowkey nature Paul possesses went out the window throughout his comeback. He is on the precipice of reaching the second week of the US Open for the first time.

Paul squares off against No. 21 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Friday. Paul holds the 2-0 head-to-head advantage over the Spaniard, including a five-set win back in January at the Australian Open. That said, the 24-year-old holds a career-high ranking and has won seven of his last nine matches. Should Paul get past ADF, he would take on the winner of Ben Shelton and Aslan Karatsev.

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Tiafoe continues to roll

Unlike his two compatriots, Tiafoe has experienced a lot of US Open success. He is on the brink of his fourth consecutive trip to the second week of this event, hoping to emulate his 2022 run to the semis. Big Foe’s 2023 tournament could not have gotten off to a better start.

He picked up straight-forward wins over Learner Tien and Sebastian Ofner to set up a third-round match against No. 22 Adrian Mannarino. The veteran Frenchman provides a tricky matchup as a lefty with a quirky style of play that features a lot of variety. Mannarino has been in solid form, holding a 9-3 record during the North American summer circuit. If Tiafoe can get by Mannarino, he will match up against the winner of Zhizhen Zhang and Rinky Hijikata.

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The great equalizer

American men’s tennis has been waiting for a breakthrough for nearly two decades. Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, and Frances Tiafoe all have a tremendous opportunity to be the first American male to reach the US Open final since Andy Roddick in 2006. The trio are three of the four highest seeds left in the bottom half of the draw. If seeds hold to form, they will all reach the 2023 US Open quarterfinals. However, one guy may have something to say about all this American fun.

23x Grand Slam Champion Novak Djokovic is still the highest seed remaining in the bottom half of the draw. He is on a direct path to square off against Fritz in the quarters and the winner of Paul/Tiafoe in the semis. How apropos is it that all that is standing in the way of this American generation and history is arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport.

Main Photo Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran – USA TODAY Sports


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