It has been somewhat of a generation gap for the United States the last five to six years on the ATP World Tour. That could be about to change.
The last few years have seen an unaccustomed absence of American men at the top of the mens singles game. John Isner is the most recent American to crack the Top ten, but his success has been limited to world no.9 at best. Sam Querrey has struggled to return to the top 20, and Jack Sock is making slow but steady progress up the ranks. But there is a sense that an American has not been able to trouble the upper echelons of the games for some time.
Andy Roddick is still the last American to win a singles Grand Slam title, this came at the US Open in 2003. His last Final at Wimbledon in 2009 still represents the last time that an American progressed that distance, or even to a semi-final. Mardy Fish’s career rededication saw him become the most recent to attend the ATP World Tour Finals in 2011. His untimely illness saw him fall from tennis until his farewell tour earlier this summer, so John Isner remains the sole active American man with a Grand Slam quarter-final to his name.
Depth in numbers is also low. Accustomed to seeing double digit representatives for the USA has not translated into sustained numbers. Steve Johnson, Donald Young and Denis Kudla remain the current support act to the underwhelming triumvirate of Isner, Querrey, and Sock. Michael Russell has finally slid down the rankings, and the short -lived rises of Bradley Klahn, Tim Smyczek, and Ryan Harrison never really instilled belief as future Grand Slam champions. Depth looks like it is coming and maybe even Slam winners.
Much has been made recently about Taylor Fritz. For good reason. The young American has excelled on the junior circuit, winning the junior US Open. His recent run at challengers is no fluke, defeating Dustin Brown in back-to-back tournaments, and took his first tour win in Nottingham, where he defeated Pablo Carreno Busta. His ranking has risen over four hundred places in two weeks. Expect to see that rise further before the end of the year. More than that, expect him to join the top 100 before the conclusion of 2016.
Jared Donaldson received the ultimate endorsement of a young player in the off-season. He was invited to Dubai to be Roger Federer’s training partner. Donaldson also already a challenger winner, winning the Maui event earlier this year, and scored his first ATP win in Memphis. Donaldson has an aggressive game, though suffers from a lack of serving consistency, rarely serving above sixty percent. He is also prone to rants and challenging calls. This was particularly evident in his defeat to Fritz in the Sacramento final just a few weeks ago. However, he has improved on tour, adding Somdev Devvarman and Nicolas Mahut to his main draw scalps. He also beat Denis Kudla in a challenger last week. Improve the serve and there is no telling how high he can go.
Tommy Paul is a name that invariably has stood next to Fritz’s in Junior Grand Slam Finals. They split their matches, Fritz winning the US Open and Paul taking the crown at the French Open. Paul also won their only senior meeting on clay in a futures event. His qualification run at the US Open shows he has what it takes to mingle with the big boys, with wins over Blaz Rola, Jose Hernandez-Fernandez, and Marco Chiudinelli taking him to the main draw before a defeat to Andreas Seppi. A surprisingly good player on clay judging by career results so far, he has a bright future.
Francis Tiafoe may be more familiar than the likes of Paul and Fritz, but the young man from Hyattsville, Maryland is also making his steady way to the top. He’s beaten Paul, and has made Challenger finals. He also scored his first main draw victory over James Duckworth. Earning the USTA’s French Open wildcard due to Challenger results, he fell to Martin Klizan in straight sets. The result occurred in the US Open to Viktor Troicki, but Tiafoe will likely soon earn a direct right to Grand Slam play.
Those four may be the biggest names, but there are more wildcards rising the ranks for the USA. Reilly Opelka, is a 6’10 server who took the Wimbledon Junior title this year, and is now making his first steps on the seniors. Dennis Novikov is twenty-one, and finished with university is now making quick strides to the top. As an eighteen year old he beat Jerzy Janowicz in the US Open first round, before taking a set from Julien Benneteau in the second round. Back-to-back challenger titles suggest Novikov could be another shot. His opponent in both those finals was Ryan Harrison, who might be showing signs of a career resurgence after he stormed to the top 50 as a teen. Michael Mmoh is a close friend of Tiafoe and just defeated Harrison. Multiple Futures titles suggests he will soon be making strides in Challengers. Bjorn Fratangelo has sat tantalisingly outside the top 100 for over a year now. A former French Open Junior winner, he continues to get results on clay. Mackenzie McDonald is another college player who raises eyebrows every time he plays main events. He qualified for the 2013 Western and Southern Open, defeating Nicolas Mahut and Steve Johnson. He also beat Sam Groth in a 2014 challenger, and Tim Smyczek this year.
Expect at least a few of these names to join the other four likely to crack the Top 100. Can any of them win Grand Slams? It is too early to tell (my money’s on Fritz).
Felix Auger-Aliassime Survives Australian Open Marathon
For a second time this week the Canadian was pushed but managed to win a tough four-set match against his Spanish opponent.
Felix Auger-Aliassime booked his spot in the third round of the Australian Open after beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a match that lasted four hours and 20 minutes.
The Montreal native hit 58 winners and served 28 aces while Davidovich Fokina hit 51 unforced errors. It is the second time the 21-year-old has reached the last 32 in Melbourne Park in what is his third appearence.
The first game of the match was a nervy one for the world number nine as it lasted six minutes and it involved him saving two breakpoints before being able to hold serve. The opener stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Fokina came up with an impressive passing shot to set up two more chances for the first break of serve of the match and this time managed to convert. Three games later the Canadian fought back and broke right back to go back on serve.
It was a tiebreak which decided the first set. The Montreal native jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Spaniard came back again to win the next four points but the Canadian responded again winning three straight points to take the breaker 7-4 and the first set.
The second set was another impressive performance on serve by both players and once again was decided by a back and forth breaker that this time was won by Davidovich Fokina to level the match.
The third frame was much the same as both players kept their level up and not much differentiated the two. This tiebreaker was much more straightforward as the Canadian jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing out the third set 7-5 and taking two sets to one lead.
The fourth set stayed on serve until 2-1 when the world number 50 had a chance to break and was able to get it for a 3-1 lead before the Canadian was able to break back the following game to go back on serve.
For the fourth time, the set was decided by a tiebreaker and this one was super tight with the Canadian getting the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve it out.
Auger Aliassime will now face Dan Evans in the third round after the Brit was handed a walkover against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech who pulled out of the match due to injury.
‘Best Feeling I’ve Ever Had’ – Underdog Christopher O’Connell Stuns Schwartzman At Australian Open
Prior to this week the 27-year-old had never won a main draw match at Melbourne Park or beaten a top 20 player.
World No.175 Christopher O’Connell has pulled off a major upset at the Australian Open by knocking out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.
The 27-year-old wild card had only ever won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam prior to this year but illustrated the talent that he has with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, win over Schwartzman. A player who is currently ranked 162 places above him in the rankings. Against the Argentine he fired a total of 44 winners and won 75% of his first service points on route to claiming his first win over a top 20 player.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this it’s a dream come true.” O’Connell said during his press conference.
Despite the straightforward score, the match itself was a marathon. The opener alone lasted for almost 90 minutes with the underdog saving three set points whilst down 4-5 before prevailing in the tiebreaker. Then in the following two sets he broke Schwartzman three times in total.
“I knew how crucial that first set was. It was really warming up out there. It was really a battle back and forth. It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat,” he said.
A late bloomer on the men’s Tour, the Australian started to make a breakthrough last year by reaching his first quarter-final at the Atlanta Open where he defeated Jannik Sinner. During that year he also reached the final of a French Challenger event before withdrawing due to injury and reached the second round of the US Open.
O’Connell, who has been ranked as high as 111th in the world, credits his coach for helping him reach new milestones in the sport. He is mentored by former player Marinko Matosevic who reached a ranking high of 39th back in 2013 and made more than $2M in prize money during his playing career.
“The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been happening all of last year,” he stated.
“I’ve been working with Marinko. He’s just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It’s the first time I’ve really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me.’
“Marinko was such a great player. All his knowledge of the game, he’s just putting it onto me.”
Next up for O’Connell will be the in-form Maxime Cressy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set just over a week ago. The American defeated Czech qualifier Tomáš Macháč 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), in his second round match.
“I knew I had good results in me. It’s just being consistent. I felt today was a consistent match from me,” he reflected.
“But the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, not having these injuries where I miss two months of tournaments. I nearly missed five or six months last year. I can’t be doing that.’
“The belief is always there, but I just got to make sure my body’s healthy this year. I want to play a full year.”
French Player Tests Positive For COVID-19 Hours After Australian Open Defeat
The world No.40 was preparing to leave the country.
Ugo Humbert is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 following his first round loss at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Humbert, who was the 29th seed in the men’s draw, is understood to have produced a positive result during a routine procedure players have to conduct before they leave the country. It is unclear as to if he is currently suffering from any symptoms.
Humbert crashed out of the tournament to compatriot Richard Gasquet, who won their match 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6 (3), 6-3, in three hours and 18 minutes. Gasquet also tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia earlier this month but was given the all clear to play at Melbourne Park following a negative test. There was a 15-day period between the 35-year-old announcing on Twitter he had the virus and his first match against Humbert.
“I was tested positive on my exit test yesterday and I’ll stay one more week in isolation in Australia,” Humbert wrote on Instagram.
“Thanks for your support and see you soon.”
The 23-year-old has started his season by winning one out of four matches played. Prior to the Australian Open, he scored one of the biggest wins of his career by defeating Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Cup in the group stages. However, following that victory he suffered losses to Alex de Minaur and Matteo Berrettini.
Tennis Australia is yet to comment on Humbert’s positive test.
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