USA haven’t had a men’s Grand Slam champion since 2003. Is the drought about to end? | Tennis
Ohen 17-year-old Michael Chang won the French Open in 1989, it was a major event for American tennis. Not only was it the story of a teenager seemingly coming out of nowhere to win a major tournament, but it also represented the end of a nearly five-year drought of men’s slam champions for the United States. After all, never before had there been more than four consecutive calendar years in the entire history of the sport that an American hadn’t won one of four Slams.
Chang’s victory ushered in a golden age for American men’s tennis. He was joined by Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Collectively, the group has won a total of 27 Grand Slam titles (with Sampras’ 14 leading) over a 15-year period, from Chang’s victory in Paris to Agassi’s last major tournament, the Open d Australia in 2003.
And things seemed to be going very well for the next generation of American men after Andy Roddick, then just 21, won the US Open later in 2003. Considered the future of American tennis since his teenage years , Roddick had apparently kept his promise. Most thought his deadly serve would help him reach a few more majors on fast surfaces before his career was over.
But that never happened. While Roddick had a Hall of Fame career that included finishing the year as a No. 1, he also had the misfortune of playing around the same time as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Roddick would reach four more Grand Slam finals, and four times he would come back to runner-up to Federer (his five-set loss at Wimbledom in 2009 to the Swiss was particularly heartbreaking).
And so, in the year 19, when will the drought end? Why can’t the men match fellow women Serena and Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens, who have won 22 Grand Slams between them in the same period.
Whatever the reasons, something is slowly changing and it looks like we may be close to a time when American men will once again be a major threat in the slams.
Two Masters-level tournaments this spring showcased the superb play of two young players in particular: Taylor Fritz, 24, and his doubles partner Sebastian Korda, 21.
In March, at his national tournament in Indian Wells, Fritz won his first Masters title. And not only that, but he beat Nadal in the final to earn his career-defining win. While some would star Fritz’s win due to Nadal nursing an injury, that analysis shouldn’t carry too much weight as Fritz also easily beat world number 7 Andrey Rublev in straight sets in the semi-finals. It was the authoritative manner in which Fritz won the title that was so impressive – powerful serve, varied groundstrokes and patient but aggressive forays into the forecourt. Fritz, a former US Open junior champion, has finally built a full game to go along with his huge promise.
And then last week at the Monte Carlo Masters, Korda upset the man who was declared the future of the sport, Carlos Alcaraz. Although Korda ultimately lost in the fourth round (to Fritz, as it happened), his victory over the Spaniard sent a clear signal that he is on the verge of breaking through at the biggest events.
What makes Korda such a hot topic among tennis connoisseurs is the uncanny ease of her game, which is very reminiscent of Sampras. His silky smooth serve motion is hard to read and his ability to finish points at net makes him an obvious danger on any surface.
Plus, Korda’s lineage helps the young star develop at her own pace. His father, Petr, won the Australian Open in 1998 (his sisters, Nelly and Jessica, are elite golfers and also used to world-class sport). Petr made a point of instilling some perspective in his son, ensuring that he wasn’t caught up in his early successes.
And the fact that Korda and Fritz did well on the red dirt of Monte Carlo belies history. With the exception of the 1990s, American men have never done particularly well on clay. But both Fritz and Korda are adept at all surfaces, which is quite a refreshing change of pace from the big serve-big forehand style of recent American players.
While Fritz, currently ranked 13and and Korda, 37and, are the two best-positioned American men to lift a slam trophy in the near future, there are several more worth mentioning. Reilly Opelka, whose 6-foot-11 frame delivers one of the most intimidating serves on the tour, is ranked just below Fritz at 17. As Opelka continues to use his improved foot speed to go along with his lethal serve, he’s sure to make waves at slams.
At the other end of the power spectrum is Jenson Brooksby. Although he doesn’t have a huge serve or particularly powerful groundstrokes, he does possess an impressive tennis IQ and an innate ability to annoy and frustrate his opponents, disrupting the rhythm of a match with off-kilter shots and varied rotations, which leave his opponents bewildered. The 21-year-old is ranked 39and and will likely be in the top 20 by the end of the year. Frances Tiafoe, meanwhile, may not have lived up to her initial promise, but is a regular top 30 player.
Cynics may scoff at the idea that the Americans are ready to become a men’s tennis powerhouse again. Sure, they’re showing signs of life, but that’s only because Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are finally on a slow decline. But you can only play against who you are. And right now, Fritz, Korda and several other young Americans look set to become permanent residents in the top 10. Perhaps the dawn of a new golden age for American male tennis players is upon us.