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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

US Girls Breeze in Junior Fed Cup, but Boys Fall in Junior Davis Cup on Opening Day; Young Wild Cards Earn First Pro Wins at Hilton Head $15K; Kenin Reaches Third Round in Wuhan

The first day of round robin action at the Junior Fed Cup in Budapest Hungary went as expected for the US, but it was another story for the US boys in Junior Davis Cup.

Coco Gauff and Alexa Noel picked up straight set wins in singles and Gauff and Connie Ma won the doubles match against Brazil to give the top seeds a 3-0 win.  But the third-seeded US boys fell to unseeded Great Britain 2-1, with Toby Kodat retiring from the No. 1 singles match with an injury, and Martin Damm and Alex Lee falling in the deciding doubles. The round robin helps the US however, and now with two teams from each group qualifying, they still have an opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals, but Kodat's injury is obviously a concern. The boys will face No. 7 seed Brazil Wednesday, with the girls taking on unseeded Japan.

Italy, the top seed in the boys draw, won its first round match, but No. 2 seed France was taken out by Denmark, which hadn't played in the Junior Davis Cup finals in over two decades. For more on the first day upsets, see this article from the ITF Junior Circuit website.

Live scoring is available here; complete results from all matches are at the ITF tournament software page.

There are four USTA Pro Circuit events on the calendar this week, two big and two small.  At the biggest, the $100,000 ATP Challenger in Tiburon California, wild card Brandon Holt earned his first win in Challenger competition, beating qualifier Steven Diez of Canada 6-3, 7-6(4). The 20-year-old USC junior won his first Futures title two weeks ago in Claremont. Other Americans advancing to the second round are Tommy Paul, Christopher Eubanks, wild card JC Aragone, Bjorn Fratangelo[8], Noah Rubin, Ernesto Escobedo, and last week's Columbus Challenger champion Michael Mmoh[5].

The women are also in California, with their tournament in Templeton a $60,000 event. Qualifying, which advances only four players to the main draw, ended today, with Robin Anderson(UCLA) and Maegan Manasse(Cal) earning spots in the main draw. Anderson, who reached the final on Saturday in Lubbock, had to travel to California and play the next day in her first round qualifying. Today Anderson trailed 5-3 in the final set, but won the final four games to beat Kai-Chen Chang of Taiwan 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Giuliana Olmos of Mexico(USC) and Switzerland's Amra Sadikovic are the other two qualifiers.  Americans Madison Brengle[2], Jessica Pegula[4], Lauren Davis and wild card Ann Li were among Tuesday's first round winners.


The $15,000 tournaments are coasts apart, with the men's Futures in Fountain Valley California and the women's event in Hilton Head South Carolina. 

The qualifying, four rounds of it, ended yesterday for the men, with several Southern Californians juniors making it to the main draw: Stefan Dostanic, Siem Woldeab, Govind Nanda and Jacob Bullard. Emilio Nava, a fifth SoCal junior, avoided qualifying by reaching the quarterfinals at last week's event in Laguna Niguel to earn a special exemption, and he won his first match today, beating lucky loser George Goldhoff(Texas) 6-3, 6-1. Wild card Ronnie Schneider(UNC) is the top seed, with Strong Kirchheimer(Northwestern) seeded No. 2.

In Hilton Head, wild cards Katrina Scott, 14, and Allura Zamarripa, 16, made successful Pro Circuit debuts, picking up the impressive victories in their first opportunities. Scott defeated the Dominican Republic's Kelly Williford (Virginia Tech) 6-2, 6-2, while Zamarripa took out No. 8 seed Salome Devidze of Georgia, who is exactly twice her age, 6-3, 6-1. Several juniors qualified today, including Ava Hrastar, Ruth Marsh, Vicky Hu and Allie Gretkowski. University of Texas junior Bianca Turati of Italy is the top seed, with former University of Georgia star Nadja Gilchrist seeded No. 2.

Sonya Kenin has continued to impress this fall, reaching the third round of the WTA Premier 5 event in Wuhan China. The 19-year-old Floridian, who qualified into the main draw, defeated No. 11 seed Julia Goerges of Germany 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 Tuesday, and will face 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus next. Kenin is earning new career ranking highs with each win, and is close to cracking the Top 50.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Junior Fed Cup, Junior Davis Cup Begin Tuesday in Budapest; Rybakov Wins Battle of the Bay; ITF Junior Circuit Update

There's been a lot of conversation lately about the changes to Davis Cup and the other ATP Team events on the horizon, but the ITF has made very few changes to the format of the 16-and-under Junior Davis and Junior Fed Cup competition over the years. On Tuesday, 15 teams who qualified in regional competitions earlier this year, along with the host country, in this case Hungary, will play in four-country round robin groups to determine the quarterfinalists. The knockout portion of the event begins then, with the title decided on Sunday.  The US girls are the defending Junior Fed Cup champions, the US boys lost in the Junior Davis Cup final to the Czech Republic last year.

The US Junior Fed Cup team this year:
Coco Gauff, 14
Alexa Noel, 16
Connie Ma, 15
Captain: Erik Kortland

The US Junior Davis Cup team this year:
Martin Damm, 14 (turns 15 on Sunday)
Toby Kodat, 15
Alex Lee, 16
Captain: Eric Nunez

Although it's after 11 p.m. in Europe, the draws for the event have not yet been posted, so the seedings are not known, although the US teams would likely be seeded 1 or 2.  I will update here when they have gone live.  (Update 9 p.m. EDT: I still can't find the draws, but this article on the ITF junior website says the US girls are the No. 1 seed. Italy is the top seed for the boys and it sounds as if the US boys are the No. 3 seed behind Italy and France.)

While the ITA Oracle Masters took place last weekend, with USC's Laurens Verboven and Miami's Estela Perez-Somarriba taking the title in Malibu, a tournament 400 miles north arguably had a better men's field. The Battle of Bay in San Francisco featured NCAA champion Petros Chrysochos of Wake Forest, last year's Masters champion Brandon Holt of USC and TCU star Alex Rybakov.  Rybakov took the title, beating Georgia's Jan Zielinski 6-3, 6-4 in the final Zielinski had beaten Chrysochos and Rybakov took out Holt in the semifinals. The reason for the impressive field may be found on the tournament's ITA webpage, which states that main draw wild cards will be given to the winners at the big Challengers in Tiburon, Stockton and Fairfield. Holt is in this week's Tiburon field as a wild card. For more on Rybakov's win, see this article from the TCU website. Below are the results from round of 16 through the final.

I reported Friday on the ITF Grade 2 results from Canada, with Emma Navarro taking the singles title in Montreal, but there were other American titles last week, in smaller events.  At the Grade 5 in Nicaragua, which could not draw a full 32-player field for either gender, top seeds Alfredo Casso and Jennifer Kida took the singles titles. The 17-year-old Casso defeated No. 5 seed Manuel Alonso of Mexico 6-1, 6-3 in the boys final and Kida, 16, defeated Gabriella Soliman of the US, the No. 2 seed, 6-3, 6-2 in the girls final. Kida and Soliman won the doubles title, playing only one match to do so, owing to a lack of teams to fill the draw.

At the Grade 5 in Puerto Rico, No. 2 seeds Quinn McLeod and James Tracy won the all-US doubles final, beating Alex Han and Graydon Lair 6-3, 6-1.  Unseeded Zoe Hammond and Kelsey Mize won the girls doubles title, beating Alexandra Centra of the US and Ariana Salgueiro-Estela of Puerto Rico, the No. 3 seeds, 6-3, 6-4.  Mize also reached the singles final.

This week marks the beginning of the ITF Junior Circuit fall hard court season in the US, with a Grade 5 in Austin Texas.  Hunter Heck and Kailey Evans are the top seeds.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Nakashima Wins Laguna Niguel Futures; Mmoh Claims Columbus Challenger Title; Perez-Somarriba and Verboven Are Oracle Masters Champions

Thanks to Jonathan Kelley for filling in for me yesterday with his post from the Laver Cup in Chicago.Today, Europe retained the title today, beating the World team 13-8, with Alexander Zverev of Germany clinching it with a 6-7(3), 7-5, 10-7 win over Kevin Anderson of South Africa. For more on Europe's win, see this article.

After the Laver Cup excitement ended this evening, there's still a lot of catching up to do on the pro and collegiate circuits.  Aside from the Laver Cup result, the news was good for American men, who won both USTA Pro Circuit events in the US this week.

Seventeen-year-old Brandon Nakashima received a wild card into the main draw of the $15,000 Futures in Laguna Niguel California and when he won his first round match, he had already had a historically good week for himself.  Although the Kalamazoo 18s finalist did have eight ATP points from his win in qualifying at the US Open, he had not won a main draw match in the six other Futures he had played in the past several years. But this week, the San Diego resident beat three seeds to reach the final, where he came up against unseeded Maxime Cressy of France, a senior at UCLA. Nakashima was up 6-4, 5-3 and had three match points, but he dropped that game, giving Cressy hope. That didn't last however, with Nakashima breaking Cressy by winning the last three points of the match for a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Michael Mmoh won his first ATP Challenger title of the year today at the $75,000 tournament in Columbus Ohio. The 2016 Kalamazoo 18s champion, seeded No. 3, beat top seed Jordan Thompson of Australia 6-3, 7-6(4).  Thompson broke Mmoh at 5-5 in the second set, but was unable to close it out, with Mmoh converting his second break point, then taking the tiebreaker. Mmoh will move to a career-high 108 in the ATP rankings with his third Challenger title.

Unseeded Tommy Paul and Canadian Peter Polansky won the Columbus doubles title, beating Ecuador's Gonzalo Escobar(Texas Tech) and Roberto Quiroz(USC), also unseeded, 6-3, 6-3 in today's final.

In yesterday's final of the $25,000 women's USTA Pro Circuit event in Lubbock Texas, No. 7 seed Rebecca Marino of Canada defeated Robin Anderson(UCLA) 6-4, 6-1.  Marino did not drop a set in capturing her fifth ITF Women's Circuit title this year.

The champions were crowned today at the ITA Oracle Masters in Malibu.  No. 6 seed Laurens Verboven, a senior at USC, defeated No. 7 seed Nicolas Moreno of UC-Santa Barbara 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-3 to take the men's title.  No. 4 seed Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami, who had beaten top seed Fernanda Contreras of Vanderbilt in the semifinals Saturday, defeated Pepperdine sophomore Evgeniya Levashova, the No. 6 seed, 6-4, 6-3 to claim the women's title. The mixed doubles tournament, a rarity in college tennis, was completed Saturday, with top seeds Yuya Ito of Texas and Lisa Marie Rioux of Oklahoma State beating No. 6 seed Sven Lah of Baylor and Michaela Bayerlova of Washington State 8-3 in the final.  For more about the women's final, see this article from Miami's website. For more on Verboven's win, the second straight for a USC Trojan, see this article. More on the mixed doubles final is available at the Texas website.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

My Laver Cup


by Jonathan Kelley


Laver Cup 2018, from the back row
(c) Jonathan Kelley
My heart was racing and so, it seemed, was the heart of the woman standing next to me. Here we were, two Chicagoans, strangers to each other, pacing a bit in the walkway behind the most upper rafters of the United Center as John Isner had match point against Alexander Zverev in the fifth match in the second iteration of Laver Cup. Convert this and Team Word would tie the score at 3-3 in this three-day star-studded event. Isner hit a decent return, and Zverev’s second shot was deep into the court. Maybe too deep? From our vantage point behind Isner, it felt long. “That shot was out, honey!” my new tennis friend exclaimed, but what could be done? The umpire wasn’t about to overrule in the middle of the point, and Isner would have been foolish to stop play on match point like that.

A couple of hours later, at a crowded watering hole near the festivities, in between the Day 2 day session and the night session, Great Shot Podcast co-host Alex Gruskin and I sat and watched the replay. The ball was pretty clearly in. In the Tennis Channel’s replayed version of the match, just like in the live version we watched, Isner ill-advisedly approached the net to Zverev’s backhand, only to get passed. On the next point, just like how we experienced it live, Isner then duffed a volley into the net that would have given him a second match point, this one on his serve. And on the subsequent point, we relived another backhand pass from Zverev to give him the second set, and set him up for a win in the match tiebreak (final score 3-6 7-6(6) [10-7]) and a 5-1 Team Europe lead.

It’s a surreal thing to sit in a bar in the same city in which you’ve lived for 20 years that hasn't had top-tier professional tennis in that time, watching a tennis match that took place a couple of hours prior (a few blocks away), a match that you also watched in real time and in person, chatting in person about the match with a guy with whom you’ve talked a lot over the past year, but had never met in person until right after said match took place, having watched it in different corners of an arena that’s never hosted top-tier tennis before.

The night before, I was sitting in that same bar, watching live tennis featuring two surefire Hall of Famers facing “the best doubles player on the planet” alongside an alumnus of the same institution at which I’m currently a (much older) student, waiting to be joined by five other people, from five different states, who came to my town to watch this phenomenon and bask in the reflected glow of these exceptional sportsmen. It felt weird not to be closer to the action – especially given that when it was announced that Laver Cup would be coming next to Chicago, I was sure I’d be there for every moment. But Day 2’s day session would be my only one. It’s expensive. And I’m a grad student. And my blog is on (permanent?) hiatus, so a press pass wasn’t in the cards.

Also too, I’m kind of more of a challenger guy, when it comes down to it. I prefer to be five feet from the action than in the walkway behind the nosebleeds. At the grand slams, I prefer to watch the final round of qualies to a final.

But I feel connected to this event. It’s exciting. It’s more than an “exhibition,” even if it’s less than a major. [The whole "exhibition" debate is problematic, as if there aren’t endless enjoyable tennis events that are meaningful to players and fans that aren’t Boodles-type "hit and giggles" but at the same time don’t have the status in official tour-level tennisdom (awarding ranking point and all that jazz). World Team Tennis, German club tennis, Hopman Cup, the belated Grand Slam Cup, incipient Majesty Cup, junior tennis back draws, money tournaments. The Laver Cup has buy-in from great players, has been delightful for fans, and when Zverev dropped to his knees after beating Isner … come on, that was a moment.]

And it is in my city. The city whose WTA tournament folded up shop in 1997 and whose ATP tournament stopped in 1991; the city that “hosted” a Davis Cup tie that was actually an hour-plus journey into the suburbs. The city that is host to a new Oracle Challenger Series event that I covered for Tennis Panorama. The third largest city in America but one whose tennis legacy is far outpaced by its much smaller Midwestern sibling, Cincinnati. A city that often gets a bad rep.

Back in March, I was able to cover the initial press event announcing Laver Cup for Tennis Panorama. I went to “the Bean” and witnessed Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios clumsily hit around on a mini court, then went across the street and asked the first question at the press conference, something about whether the era of European dominance in men’s tennis was waning (note: the next tournament, Miami, was won by John Isner, but European players have won all 13 ATP 500, ATP 1000, and Grand Slam events since then; represent both Davis Cup finalists, and are dominating Laver Cup through 3.5 sessions, so there’s no real waning in sight). And then I was part of the scrums that interviewed Federer and Laver and McEnroe and Kyrgios up close. Suffice it to say I was a bit starstruck.



So student life be damned, I decided after the hangout last night that I would have at least one session in person – the day session. Even after it was announced that session would include the most popular player in decades if not ever, I was determined to pay the Federer Fee and see him live, from however far away.

It turned out to be $150 (plus StubHub fees, plus pretzel (plus cheese sauce)) for the two-match session. And the Federer match itself was underwhelming – he simply dismantled Kyrgios, never facing a break point and withstanding the few HOT SHOTS the Aussie was able to muster. The 37-year-old looked like the future of tennis, the way he thought out there, the way he moved, the way he defended and offended and just shone. But the match itself was basically a snoozer, a 6-3 6-2 dusting.

But it was still worth it, to be there (and be able to say I was there) and to feel the thrall of Isner/Zverev, where the result was always in doubt, and two strokes made the difference (a Zverev double fault to get broken early in the first and that Isner dump into the net at 6-6 in the second set tiebreak). The ten point tiebreak proved to be a bit of a letdown, especially after Isner went down 0-4. I wonder if a first-to-four set might not work better for the third set of singles? Something of a hybrid of Laver Cup and the Milan #NextGen format? A way to maintain some brevity without the crap shoot feel of a match tiebreak. Just a thought.

The Laver Cup is great. It’s not perfect, but it’s fun, and it’s meaningful for the players, and it’s great to be able to promote it for an entire year. Sure, the Europe/World division is artificial to everyone but me (who obsesses over such geographic vagaries) and it’s too new to have any kind of tradition, and it’s a little too Federer-centric for comfort (I say as a FedFan who found FedFandom only after he drubbed all of my favorites into submission) and the sides are mismatched. But there are other men’s tennis stars out there, and more on the horizon. And the team element is a wild card. And had Isner and Diego Schwartzman (Session 2, Match 1) converted their match points, the scoreboard looks much different.

Whether Laver Cup should include women – or whether women can and should find their own version of a team event – is very much an open question. But I’d implore the cynics to appreciate the special part of it, and note that it doesn’t seem to have harmed other tennis products. And hey, any time you can have Jack Sock on a court where he beats Roger Federer is a momentous occasion.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Discussing the ITF's New Junior Heat Rule; Navarro Wins Grade 2 Title in Montreal; Nakashima Reaches Semis at Laguna Niguel Futures; Oracle Masters Update

The ITF's new heat rule caught nearly everyone by surprise earlier this month at the US Open Junior Championships. Tournament director Lew Brewer was hoping it wouldn't be necessary to implement it, but on two different occasions, junior play was suspended or postponed due to conditions considered too dangerous. Not having seen the rule invoked at other events I attended this year, I had quite a few questions about it, and I spoke to Brewer on the last weekend to help me understand it. I also spoke with quite a few players about the heat, throughout the week, and although I couldn't quote them all in this Tennis Recruiting article, most agreed they had played in worse conditions and therefore were not expecting play to be stopped. As the article notes, Brewer does not anticipate this rule changing, so expect more disruptions to ITF tournaments in warm weather months.


The singles finals were played today at the ITF Grade 2 in Montreal, with No. 2 seed Emma Navarro defeating friend and doubles partner Chloe Beck, the top seed, 6-2, 6-2 in the girls championship match. The 17-year-old Navarro, who won two Grade 4s last year and has reached two Grade 1 semifinals this year, dropped only one set this week. It was announced this week that her father, Ben Navarro, has purchased Charleston's Volvo Car Open and the Family Circle Tennis Center where it is held.  Beck and Navarro, the top seeds in doubles, lost in the final to No. 2 seeds Kylie Collins and Puerto Rico's Lauren Anzalotta 6-2, 6-4. 

The boys title went to No. 4 seed Taha Baadi, who beat unseeded Liam Draxl 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in an all-Canadian final.  The unseeded team of Draxl and Cleeve Harper won the doubles title, beating No. 4 seeds Ronan Jachuck and Canadian Alexandre LeBlanc 6-4, 6-2 in the final.

Wild card Brandon Nakashima has advanced to the semifinals of the $15,000 Laguna Niguel Futures tournament after beating No. 4 seed Martin Redlicki(UCLA) 6-3, 7-5.  The Kalamazoo 18s finalist will face No. 2 seed Henry Craig(Denver), with Craig advancing by beating Alessandra-Damiano Ventre of Brazil 6-1, 7-5. While Nakashima did advance to his first Futures semifinal, fellow 17-year-old Southern Californian Emilio Nava could not, with the qualifier falling to Alan Cohen of Argentina, also a qualifier, 6-2, 0-6, 6-2.  Cohen will face UCLA senior Maxime Cressy of France, who beat No. 5 seed Michael Zhu(Michigan) 6-0, 6-7(2), 6-4. In the doubles final, unseeded Nick Meister(UCLA) and Redlicki, a two-time NCAA doubles champion, beat top seeds Hunter and Yates Johnson(SMU) 6-4, 3-6, 10-6.

The singles final of the $25,000 Women's Pro Circuit event in Lubbock Texas tomorrow will feature Rebecca Marino of Canada against Robin Anderson, the former UCLA star.  The 27-year-old Marino, who is coming back after stepping away from the sport for more than five years, started the year with no WTA ranking, but is now up to 215 with four titles on the ITF Pro Circuit. Marino, seeded No. 7, defeated qualifier Hayley Carter(UNC) 6-1, 6-2 in just 38 minutes, hitting 11 aces and winning all 21 points on her first serve.  The unseeded Anderson defeated No. 8 seed Emina Bektas(Michigan) 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 6-4 to reach her second final of the year.

Doubles qualifiers Carter and Vladica Babic of Montenegro, who reached the NCAA doubles final this year as an Oklahoma State senior, lost in the final to No. 2 seed Nadia Podoroska of Argentina and Naomi Broady of Great Britain 3-6, 6-2, 10-8.

At the $75,000 ATP Challenger in Columbus Ohio, No. 3 seed Michael Mmoh has advanced to the semifinals, where he'll meet former Ohio State star Mikael Torpegaard of Denmark, who won the title at this tournament two years ago. Torpegaard defeated qualifier Thai Kwiatkowski(Virginia) 6-4, 6-2. Former USC star Roberto Quiroz of Ecuador, the No. 7 seed, will play No. 1 seed Jordan Thompson of Australia in the other semifinal.

The semifinals are set in the women's draw at the ITA Oracle Masters in Malibu, with top seed Fernanda Contreras of Vanderbilt playing No. 4 seed Estela Perez-Somarriba of Miami and No. 6 seed Evgeniya Levashova of Pepperdine facing No. 2 seed Kate Fahey of Michigan. The men's semifinals also will feature only seeded players, although not No. 1 seed Yuya Ito of Texas. Ito lost to No. 8 seed Mitch Harper of Virginia Tech 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-1.  Harper will play No. 6 seed Laurens Verboven of USC, while No. 5 seed Christian Sigsgaard of Texas will play the winner of the match between No. 7 seed Nicolas Moreno of UC-Santa Barbara and No. 2 seed Daniel Cukierman of USC.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Great Stalling?



A guest post by Jonathan Kelley--

This past weekend was an interesting one for those following the younger generations of American professional tennis players. In his debut Davis Cup tie, 20-year-old Frances Tiafoe came within a few games of sending the United States to the final, falling in five sets to Borna Coric in Croatia. In Cary, North Carolina, 21-year-old Reilly Opelka reached his second consecutive Challenger final, but again came up short (so to speak) in the final, this time to James Duckworth. And in Claremont, California, 20-year-old Brandon Holt won his first professional singles title at a Futures event.

Just prior to the weekend, I recorded a podcast with Alex Gruskin for Cracked Raquets in which I expressed my sense that 2018 had been somewhat disappointing for American men, and specifically for the group born between 1996 and 1998. That group, which includes Tiafoe, Opelka, Taylor Fritz, and Jared Donaldson, has been heralded as the great hope for American men’s tennis for years. They won four junior grand slams and several Grade A titles between 2013–2015. More recently, Donaldson qualified for the 2017 ATP Next Gen tournament, while Tiafoe won his first ATP title in 2018 and he and Fritz are currently in 5th and 6th place, respectively, in the 2018 Race to Milan.

But there’s that nagging feeling I had that their collective progress had stalled somewhat this year. So I thought I’d examine their progress from a few different lenses: how they’ve progressed on their own terms, in comparison with their peers internationally, and in comparison with past cohorts of American men.

Here’s what I found.

Progression on their own terms

The USA is fortunate to have nine players born between 1996–1998 who have been ranked inside the ATP Top 150, far more than any other country. Tiafoe, Fritz, Donaldson, Opelka, Michael Mmoh, and Noah Rubin are currently in the Top 150, while Ernesto Escobedo, Tommy Paul, and Stefan Kozlov were there within the past twelve months. (Christopher Eubanks, born 1996, has a career high of 183 and currently is ranked 221.)

However, with the exception of Tiafoe (and to a lesser extent, Mmoh), their careers have been anything but bumpless. Nearly every player has had to take some time off for injury, and even when healthy, there has been a notable lack of breakthroughs, particularly in the last year.

To wit: No American man born 1996 or later has broken into the Top 100 since April 2017, and the last one who did, Escobedo, now resides outside the Top 200. And while two players did debut in the Top 50 this year, only Tiafoe remains there, as Donaldson has dropped to #98. Meanwhile Fritz, while doing well to re-enter the Top 100 and stay in the Top 70, has yet to approach the career high of #53 he set over two years ago; he’s currently at #64.

Collectively, the nine players who have reached the Top 150 had 115 fewer ATP points at the end of the 2018 US Open than they did at the end of the 2017 US Open. Take away Tiafoe’s 375 point jump, and the picture is even starker.

ATP POINTS ACCUMULATED THROUGH US OPEN, 1996–1998 AMERICAN MEN

Player
2017
2018
Tiafoe
715
1090
Donaldson
858
590
Fritz
554
825
Mmoh
409
450
Opelka
308
397
Rubin
256
443
Kozlov
405
219
Escobedo
636
250
Paul
364
126
TOTAL
4505
4390

The progress that has been made by Mmoh, Rubin, and Opelka – all of whom are at or near career high rankings between 125 and 140 – is counterbalanced by significant drop-offs by Escobedo, Paul, and Kozlov. Last year, all nine players were ranked #205 or higher; this year, only six are.

Moreover, during the summer hardcourt season (which traditionally has been strong for American men), none of the group advanced to a semifinal at the ATP World Tour or Challenger Tour. While some players had solid wins (Rubin over Isner in Washington, DC; Fritz over Mischa Zverev at the US Open) there was no standout run like in 2017 (Paul in Atlanta and DC, Donaldson in Cincinnati, even Mmoh winning the Lexington Challenger).


Comparison with international peers

Every player develops on his own path, and 22 is still young for an ATP in which no player born in the 1990s has won a grand slam title.

That said, as I tweeted last month,
Alexander Zverev (GER), Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE), and Borna Coric (CRO) are currently in the ATP Top 20. Chung Hyeon (KOR), Karen Khachanov (RUS), Daniil Medvedev (RUS), Denis Shapovalov (CAN), and Alex de Minaur (AUS) are all ranked higher than all young American men. And Andrey Rublev (RUS), Jaume Munar (ESP), and Hubert Hurkacz (POL) are all Top 100, while #105 Corentin Moutet (FRA) and #108 Ugo Humbert (FRA) are just outside.

Of the 9 non-American players born after 1995 who had the highest rankings post-2017 US Open, only two (Rublev and Bublik) had fewer ATP points post-2018 US Open. Overall, the trajectories of the top young non-Americans are clearly smoother and in more of an upward direction than those of the Americans.

ATP POINTS ACCUMULATED THROUGH US OPEN, 1996–1998 NON-AMERICAN MEN

Player
2017
2018
Zverev
4470
4890
Khachanov
1330
1605
Rublev
1233
795
Chung
1017
1630
Shapovalov
926
1270
Coric
876
1825
Medvedev
819
1262
Bublik
583
294
Tsitsipas
483
1962
TOTAL
11737
15533

And while Tsitsipas was the ninth-ranked young non-American at #120 a year ago (behind five young Americans), this year that honor went to #59 Matteo Berrettini, who is behind only Tiafoe. Simply put, Americans are being sped past at a remarkable rate.

It is true that no other country has had the depth of US men – only Russia with three has multiple players born after 1995 in the Top 100, and they have no other young player in the ATP Top 300. But national depth doesn’t win championships in an individual sport (just ask France), and the idea that players from one country will push their colleagues to the highest heights doesn’t bear out in this most international of arenas.


Comparison with past American generations

The cohort of American men born between 1996–1998 have had more success at their ages than any three-year cohort from the USA since 2003, when players born between 1981–1983 already had between them a slam champion (Andy Roddick), a Top 20 player (Mardy Fish), a Top 30 player (Robby Ginepri), and a Top 40 player (Taylor Dent). And that cohort had better cumulative accomplishments than any group going back a decade earlier (namely 1970–1972’s Sampras, Agassi, Chang, Courier, and others).

But even then, depth was an issue. Roddick’s cohort featured no other players under 23 years old in the Top 250 following the 2003 US Open. And, of course, only Roddick in that group reached a major final or won a Masters 1000.

A three-year cohort that has done very well is 1985–1987, which includes John Isner, Sam Querrey, Donald Young [Correction: Young was born in 1989], Brian BakerRyan SweetingWayne Odesnik, and Tim Smyczek. But of that group, only Querrey had entered the Top 100 by the 2007 US Open, having achieved a then-career high of #47 the week before.

Interestingly, a three-year cohort just older than the one I’m focused on, 1992–1994 (which also has three players who have reached the ATP Top 60 in Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison, and Denis Kudla, plus another in Bjorn Fratangelo who hit the Top 100), hit a similar lull four years ago. The top nine players in that age range after the 2013 US Open collectively had 230 fewer ATP points a year later. The good news is that in 2015, they had over 1,000 more points than in 2013 – despite the absence of three of them from the rankings, and not including the addition of players who had been playing college tennis such as Evan King and Marcos Giron. So going by this comparison, we might expect 2019 to be a very strong one for the current youngsters.

ATP POINTS ACCUMULATED THROUGH US OPEN, 1992–1994 AMERICAN MEN

Player
2013
2014
2015
Sock
608
756
1285
Kudla
568
451
681
R. Harrison
516
282
425
Kosakowski
127
175
0
Fratangelo
123
124
464
C. Harrison
99
0
0
Krueger
72
96
195
Berman
63
6
0
Novikov
31
87
240
TOTAL
2207
1977
3290



Moving forward

So what is to make of this Great Stalling? Is it temporary or an ominous sign for the future? Will we see this cohort of American men joining their international peers in the Top 20? Will we get some additions into the Top 100 soon?

Several theories have been advanced as to what has and may continue to limit these young American men from reaching the very top of the game. Criticism has variously been raised about technique, athleticism, coaching, national tennis culture, motivation, and mental strength. We should also keep in mind that uninterrupted periods of good health have been missing for several of them, and that perfect health is guaranteed to none of us.

Rather than diagnose any one player, I’ll say that while they shouldn’t get too distressed about not having achieved certain ranking goals by now, the next two years will be a critical time for them to make their mark. Young players around the world have stopped giving excuses for coming up short against top-level competition, and have started seizing opportunities. They have improved deficiencies in their games with an eye toward future glory; meanwhile they do what it takes to win pressure-packed matches today. None has yet won a Grand Slam, but I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t happen by 2020. And they are beginning to flood the Top 100, securing their spots in the main draws of majors and playing regularly at the ATP level. They aren't waiting for Americans to keep up.

Still, let us remember that only eight American players born after 1985 have spent any time at all in the ATP Top 50 to date, and two of those are Tiafoe and Donaldson. And I still fully expect at least two more of the current “Next Gen” to reach that ranking by the end of 2020, which would also be impressive.

Whether any of them ever wins a Masters 1000 (a la Jack Sock) or reached a major final (as John Isner almost did) just can’t be predicted. But if more than five American players born between 1994 and 1996 do reach the ATP Top 50 at some point in their careers, it will be a tremendous accomplishment, and the current Stalling will have proved to be put a Pause.