Three American Men Reach U.S. Open Quarterfinals For 1st Time Since 2005

When Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003, his then-coach Brad Gilbert figured it would be the first of many.

And why not?

Roddick was just 21 at the time. By the end of 2003, he was ranked No. 1 in the world, the first American to finish a year at No. 1 since Andre Agassi in 1999. He also became the youngest American to hold the No. 1 rank since computer rankings were started in 1973.

Roddick had a tremendous career, reaching four more Grand Slam finals, but he never won another major title. He lost four Slam finals to Roger Federer.

It has now been 20 years and 78 majors since an American man has won a Grand Slam title. During that time, four American women — Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin — have won majors. Serena and Venus have combined to win 30 major singles titles in their careers.

“If someone had told me that at the time, I would have said, ‘That’s f—-ed up,'” Gilbert, who also coached Agassi and now coaches Coco Gauff, said earlier this month, per ESPN. “Up until that point, we just always expected that American men would be winning because we always had been.”

Between them, Pete Sampras (14), Andre Agassi (8), Jim Courier (4) and Michael Chang (1) won 27 majors during their heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s. A generation before them, Jimmy Connors (8) and John McEnroe (7) won a combined 15 while helping to usher in the tennis boom of the 1970s and ‘80s.

Now a new generation of American men is breaking through and hoping to be the first to win a major since Roddick.

For the first time since 2005, three American men — No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 10 Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton, the 2022 NCAA singles champion from Florida — are into the U.S. Open quarterfinals. In 2005, it was Agassi, James Blake and Robby Ginepri.

Tiafoe, 25, and Shelton, 20, will square off in one quarterfinal on Tuesday after both won their fourth-round matches on Sunday, while Fritz, the top-ranked American, also advanced with a 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-4 win over Dominic Stricker of Switzerland.

Fritz and Shelton are into their first U.S. Open quarterfinals, while Tiafoe became the first American man since Roddick in 2006 to reach the semifinals a year ago. Tiafoe has won nine of his last 10 matches at the Open.

“All these American men are just pushing each other, it’s great to see,” 18-time major champion Chrissie Evert said this week on ESPN.

The three American men in the quarters will earn $455,000 and the Tiafoe/Shelton winner gets $775,000 for making the semis.

While none has won a major, the American men are knocking on the door. Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal en route to the semifinals in New York a year ago. Tommy Paul, who lost in four sets to Shelton on Sunday, reached the Australian Open semis in January. Three American men — Paul, Shelton and Sebastian Korda — all reached the Australian Open quarterfinals. Chris Eubanks, 27, won his first-ever ATP title in Mallorca and reached his first major quarterfinal at Wimbledon. He’s now doing commentary for ESPN after losing in the second round at the Open.

“It’s something that’s definitely unspoken,” Tiafoe said Sunday after beating Rinky Hijikata, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4. “You see guys you grew up with and played against so many years. You see them doing exceptional things. It’s a domino effect. You believe it if they’re doing it.”

Fritz echoed those sentiments after his win on Sunday.

“Yeah, I’ve said it for a long time, whenever one of us does something, achieves something, it motivates everyone else to do it, it makes everyone else feel like they can do it, too, “ Fritz said on court

“We’re all pushing each other and it’s great to see three Americans in the quarters.”

There are several reasons why American men haven’t won a major since 2003.

First, the game has spread globally (like basketball) so more players in more countries now play, providing more competition overall. Australia and Sweden have also declined as world powers in men’s tennis.

Second, a lot of American men grow up not knowing how to play on clay and have primarily relied on the big serve and big forehand (John Isner, Jack Sock, Sam Querrey) and don’t have more of an all-around game. That said, both Isner and Querrey reached the Wimbledon semifinals, Querrey in 2017 and Isner in 2018.

Third, Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 65 of the last 80 majors (and counting), Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka won three apiece. So nobody outside of that group has won much in 20 years. Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina at the 2009 U.S. Open is the only non-European to win a major since the 2004 U.S. Open.

Still, there is hope and not just because Federer is retired and Nadal is out with an injury and says 2024 will be his final year.

During a recent interview with GQ commemorating the 20th anniversary of his U.S. Open title, Roddick said he was impressed with the current group of American men and their competitive spirit.

“There is a healthy jealousy between the players,” Roddick told the magazine. “They’re not all just slapping each other on the back. They want to be better than the other guy. They actually talk about winning Slams.”

Despite all the optimism around the American men, John McEnroe issued a warning before the tournament.

Djokovic and world No. 1 and defending champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain remain the favorites to win the title, with No. 3 Daniil Medvedev of Russia, the 2021 champion, and No. 6 Jannik Sinner of Italy also considered contenders.

“It would be incredible for an American player to make a breakthrough to me, but the likelihood is that it isn’t going to happen,” McEnroe said.

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