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Can an American break through and win a Grand Slam title?

Brad Gilbert knows it’s been 20 years since Andy Roddick won the US Open. It would be almost impossible to forget it, especially lately, since the reminders are everywhere. But it still seems surreal to him that so many years have passed since he coached Roddick to his only major victory.

Gilbert, the former player-turned-coach and ESPN analyst, still vividly remembers almost every detail of Roddick’s incredible journey in New York and every game of their fairytale summer leading up to the last Grand Slam. of the year.

There was the title in Indianapolis in July. Back-to-back victories in Montreal and Cincinnati, including an epic final battle with Roddick’s longtime friend Mardy Fish. The rain delays. A late night match for Roddick’s 21st birthday. A spectacular victory against David Nalbandian in the semi-finals of the US Open. And then the 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3 win over Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final.

For Gilbert, and many others at the time, it seemed inevitable that Roddick would win several more major trophies during his career, and he seemed almost certain to be America’s next big star, following in the footsteps of legendary names like Pete Sampras. and Andre Agassi.

Granted, no one predicted at the time that in 2023, Roddick would be the last American to win a major tournament. Entering the US Open this year, while four Americans (Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin) have since won major titles, no American has achieved the feat.

“If someone had told me that at the time, I would have said, ‘It’s screwed up,'” Gilbert, who previously coached Agassi, said earlier this month. “Until then, we always expected American men to win because we always have.”

By any measure, Roddick has had an incredible career. He reached world number one later that year, a milestone he held for 13 weeks, and won 32 singles titles before retiring in 2012. And though he reached four more finals Grand Slams, including three at Wimbledon, he could not repeat what he had done. did it at the US Open. He lost all four to Roger Federer.

Federer and his Big Three counterparts Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are largely responsible for this winless streak. Since Federer’s maiden Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, the trio have won 65 of 80 major titles.

As a result, the United States is certainly not the only country with a rich tennis history to experience a similar streak. The shortages of male players in Australia and France go back even further. But even with an obvious explanation for much of the country’s woes – it’s hard to compete with the three greatest players of all time – it still hasn’t dulled the pain, or diminished America’s determination to win. majors.

“I think it’s natural for tennis fans and the tennis community to look back on 2003 and that’s something we’re trying to get back to in terms of winning a Grand Slam for the men,” Martin said. Blackman, executive director of the USTA. of player development, said recently. “It’s a healthy and fair conversation, but it’s not something we talk about internally in player development, because we try to hold ourselves accountable to be process-oriented. But it’s always there. ultimate goal.

“The ultimate goal is always to win the Grand Slams.”

In 2009 – coincidentally, the last time an American (Roddick) played in a major final – the USTA created its National Pathway Program to identify, nurture and retain top young talent. A network of camps, at sectional, regional and national levels, has been created for talented players aged 11 and over. According to Blackman, all men and women currently ranked in the top 100 aged 26 and under have participated in the program.

In recent years, a few Americans have reached the Grand Slam semi-finals: Sam Querrey (Wimbledon in 2017), John Isner (Wimbledon in 2018), Frances Tiafoe (US Open in 2022) and Tommy Paul (Australian Open in 2023 ). . And outside of the Grand Slams, things are looking even more promising lately. For the first time since Roddick’s retirement over a decade ago, two Americans – Taylor Fritz and Tiafoe – are ranked in the top 10. Both have won two ATP titles this season. Paul, ranked No. 14, has made two finals this year in addition to his breakthrough result in Melbourne. In the ranking released on August 21, eight Americans were ranked in the ATP top 50 and 11 in the top 100.

Through the USTA’s Journey Program, most of the young Americans on the tour have known and competed since their tweens or early teens. This camaraderie and friendly rivalries pushed everyone to improve.

“We all grew up together, so we’re really happy for each other every time someone does something or wins something,” Tiafoe, 25, told ESPN earlier this summer. “There’s no jealousy but at the same time, when I see Taylor doing something, or Tommy, I’m like, ‘Fuck, if they can do it, why can’t I do it?’ So when I faced Rafa in the fourth round of the [2022] US Open, I thought, “Well, Taylor beat him in Indian Wells.” [in 2022]if he can do it, why can’t I?'”

That’s exactly what Tiafoe did by beating Nadal in four sets to advance to the quarter-finals. He eventually lost to Carlos Alcaraz, the eventual champion, in a hard-fought semi-final, but he vowed to the adoring crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium that he would come back and win the tournament.

For many years, it was Isner, now 38 and ranked No. 158, who was the only American in the top 10 and the nation’s most legitimate title hopeful. On Wednesday, Isner announced that the US Open would be his last tournament before retiring. In many ways, he is considered the bridge connecting Roddick’s generation to the present.

“After Andy, we were very lucky that John had those defining moments and consistently hit the top 10,” Blackman said. “He was a great example of professionalism and he kept the bar high for these guys ahead of this new cycle and before the transition program started bringing in these new players.”

Having received a wild card to participate in his 17th main draw of the tournament, Isner is not considered a contender, but several of his younger peers are.

And it’s not just the trio made up of Tiafoe, Fritz (25) and Paul (26), although they are at the top of the contingent which is entering the fortnight. Chris Eubanks, 27, is fresh off winning his first-ever ATP title in Mallorca and his first major Wimbledon quarter-final when he stunned Cameron Norrie and Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to the last eight. 2022 NCAA singles champion Ben Shelton, 20, reached the Australian Open quarter-finals earlier this season in his first full year on tour. Mackenzie McDonald, another former NCAA champion, is coming off a solid appearance at the Canadian Open this month. And Sebastian Korda, the 23-year-old son of former major champion Petr Korda, has reached the quarters of the Australian Open. And then there are newcomers like Michael Mmoh, JJ Wolf, Marcos Giron and Brandon Nakashima. The list continues.

In a recent interview with GQ commemorating the 20th anniversary of his achievement, Roddick said he was impressed with the current crop of American talent and their competitive spirit with each other.

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

But he didn’t respond when asked which of them had the best chance of ending that winless streak.

“I don’t know,” Roddick said. “It’s not an escape. I would probably lie to you if I had a strong feeling, because I wouldn’t want a guy to be in the spotlight and have to deal with this. But honestly, I don’t know if one is head and shoulders above.”

Gilbert echoed that sentiment. Having also worked with Andy Murray before ending the Britons’ major winless streak in 2012, he knows full well how crushing the pressure and hopes of a nation can be on a player.

“Everybody would say nobody has won since Fred Perry [in 1936] “And then I remember telling Andy and he was like, ‘Not under my watch,'” Gilbert said. “Sometimes you get caught up in this idea that you have to win, or people talk about it, and it becomes more of a problem, a bigger problem than it really is.”

Gilbert is back at the US Open alongside another promising young American, Coco Gauff, who is having a magical summer with two titles. She wasn’t born when Roddick won in Queens, but she and her American peers are well aware of the refrain that it went on for a long time for men. Speaking to reporters on Friday ahead of the US Open, Fritz joked that he was asked about this streak at every press conference he gave.

“That’s what we’re all used to hearing,” he said.

But Tiafoe seemed excited by the challenge to him and his cohorts and was determined that one of them would end the drought.

“I think American tennis is in a great position,” Tiafoe said Friday. “Tommy Paul plays great tennis. Fritz, myself. You have Chris, Ben, Korda. … I think it’s a matter of time, that it happens here, that it happens in due time. “Andy did in ’03 was amazing. I think we hear it more than him, what he did in 2003.

“Yeah, hopefully one of us will be able to do it. Hopefully when we do it will be here at the Open.”


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