Between 1978 and 1996, the US Open men’s singles title was won by an American 12 times. Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras ensured that for the best part of two decades the flag that few above Flushing Meadows was predominantly the Stars and Stripes. A lot has changed since then.
Andy Roddick was the last American man to win the US Open. 16 years have now passed and Flushing Meadows has become the domain of the Swiss, the Spanish, the Serbian, the British, the Argentinian and even the Croatian, but no home hope has come to the fore. It’s been a lean period for American men’s tennis.
John Isner is the country’s best hope, making a career best-equalling run to the US Open quarter finals last year. Currently ranked 14th, the 34-year-old has never truly boasted the all-round game to trouble the elite of the men’s game. A master of the marathon match, Isner is frequently seen, with some justification, as little more than a big serve. A very big serve.
Beyond Isner, the pickings are decidedly slim. Taylor Fritz entered this year’s US Open on the back of a strong grass court season, winning his first ATP Tour title at Eastbourne before Wimbledon, but suffered a shock elimination at the hands of Feliciano Lopez in the first round. Fritz is still only 21 and so still has plenty time for development, but his 2019 US Open campaign goes down as a disappointment.
Reilly Opelka is making his main draw debut at Flushing Meadows this year having failed to qualify for the 2018 US Open and pulled off one of the surprise results of the tournament so far, beating 11th seed Fabio Fognini in four sets on Monday. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Opelka has pulled off a Grand Slam upset having beaten Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon earlier this year.
Standing at 6 ft 11” and boasting a big, booming serve, there are obvious comparisons to be drawn between Opelka and Isner. Indeed, there are concerns that Opelka’s game is too one dimensional to truly make an impact at the elite level, but at just 22 years old he has time to work on his approach play, footwork and hands at the net.
Then there’s Sam Querrey, the 31-year-old who has maximised his talent in achieving a career highest ranking of 11th. Querrey made the quarter finals of the US Open and the semi finals of Wimbledon as recently as 2017, but suffered a first round defeat to Juan Ignacio Londero on Monday.
Maybe Frances Tiafoe will be the saviour of American men’s tennis. The 21-year-old made a run to the quarter finals of the Australian Open earlier this year and while he might not have built on that as many predicted, the Maryland native has something no American male player has had in a long time - sparkle.
Tiafoe’s game is still unpolished, but his forehand could take him far. He is American men’s tennis’ best hope even if his chances of making a run at this year’s US Open are remote. There is a sense that the American game on the men’s side has fallen behind the curve. The college system, which keeps youngsters in the education system into their late teens and 20s, is often blamed, but every so often a talent comes along that bypasses this. Where is American men’s tennis’ Coco Gauff? They’re still looking.