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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, August 25, 2021

 
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John McEnroe identifies two simple reasons why American men have struggled for 18 years at the US Open and cites two players with a shot to change the narrative.

Photo credit: Fila

The US Open unveiled true blue colored courts in 2005.

American men have been largely red, white and bruised at their home Slam ever since.

McEnroe: Djokovic Will Win Four More Majors


In a powerful performance that saw him surrender only six first-serve points, Andy Roddick rolled over reigning Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero to claim the 2003 US Open crown in his maiden major final.

Since Roddick’s 2003 triumph only two American men—Andre Agassi in 2005 and Roddick in 2006—have contested the US Open final in the last 18 years.

Hall of Famer John McEnroe says there’s two simple reasons American men have been muted in Flushing Meadows: European domination and the fact the best American male athletes tend to use team sports like basketball, football and baseball over tennis.

“That's a big, big issue,” McEnroe told Tennis Now in an ESPN conference call to promote its US Open coverage starting on Monday at noon on ESPN. “A lot of us are trying to change that course because we've had such difficulties on the men's side. We're being dominated by Europeans.”

Former world No. 1 McEnroe points to two Americans—25th-ranked Reilly Opelka and 45th-ranked Sebastian Korda—as the men with the most major upside.

Though the 6’11” Opelka owns just one US Open main-draw victory and has yet to surpass the third round in 11 career major appearances, he’s coming off a strong showing in Toronto where he toppled Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov, Lloyd Harris, Roberto Bautista Agut and Stefanos Tsitsipas in succession to reach his first Masters final where he lost to 2019 US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev. Opelka owns an imposing serve, can crack his returns and is one of the most athletic players over 6’9” the game has seen.

The 6’5” Korda, who celebrate his 25th birthday on July 5th, has made Grand Slam fourth-round appearances at Wimbledon and Roland Garros. Korda has shown the skills, versatility, vision and court sense to be a future major contender if he can strengthen his serve and stay healthy.

“I envision when I played, guys that you don't want to play. That's what I look at a guy like Opelka,” McEnroe told Tennis Now. “I think mentally he's made some real progress, competing a lot more consistently. To me, he'd be the most dangerous one.

“Obviously Korda has a huge upside as well. I think he'll be a Top-10 player. Whether he's going to take it to that level where he's winning majors, I hope the breakthrough comes sooner rather than later for our sport clearly.

“[Frances] Tiafoe to me, he's a great kid. He's got capabilities on any given day to beat almost anybody. Consistency has been a big issue, mentally and physically. He just goes out one day, you're like, Wow, look at this guy. Beat Tsitsipas at Wimbledon. I think he won another round but laid an egg against Khachanov. It's like, Where was he? That's been frustrating to watch because you'd like to see him obviously for a variety of reasons do well.”


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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There is cause for future optimism for American fans.

There are currently 14 American men in the ATP’s Top 100 ranging from world No. 22 and U.S. No. 1 John Isner through No. 99 Jenson Brooksby, who backed up his run to the Newport final with an impressive surge to the Washington, DC semifinals. Twenty-year-old Brandon Nakashima played some of his most dynamic tennis reaching back-to-back finals in Los Cabos and Atlanta and when 33-year-old Sam Querrey is hot and rocketing his serve with accuracy he can be a danger in almost any draw as he displayed reaching the 2017 Wimbledon semifinals.

Still, can you envision any American man breaking the nation’s US Open finals drought and reaching the Flushing Meadows final in the near future?

Starting with Jimmy Connors’ 1974 US Open final sweep of Ken Rosewall at Flushing Meadows 24 of the next 29 US Open finals featured an American man.

Tennis Express

Since Roddick’s 2003 triumph only two American men—Andre Agassi in 2005 and Roddick in 2006—have contested the US Open final in the last 18 years.

Clearly, the combined success of the Big 3 overshadowed all nations yet the continued struggles of U.S. men at their home major frustrates former champions and current coaches.

“None of us would ever, ever have imagined we'd be sitting here 18 years later, not even a U.S. male through to [win] another [Slam] final,” ESPN analyst Pam Shriver told Tennis Now. “When you think about going into 2003, all the decades of success of American men, which John was a huge part of, we had a couple of months there we didn't have a U.S. man in the top 30 in the world for the first time ever. These are things that if you had said this to me 20 years ago, I would have said, I'm sorry, not a chance.

“Who's going to step up? To me we're still not doing things right on the men's side to develop the best players. But that's a whole 'nother topic. We got to figure out a few things on the men's side. I look forward to seeing Korda develop and to see what Opelka can do with his maturing game. “


 

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