For quite some time, American men have been threatening to break through tennis’ elite and, at this year’s US Open, it appears that time has finally come.
For the first time since 2005, three Americans have progressed to the quarterfinals of the men’s draw. It also means there is guaranteed to be at least one US star in the semifinals.
Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton are the trio still harboring dreams of winning a home grand slam. Not since Andy Roddick in 2003 has an American man won the US Open.
Tiafoe and Shelton will play each other on Tuesday, while Fritz has a rather tricky tie against 23-time grand slam winner Novak Djokovic on the same day.
Andre Agassi, James Blake and Robby Ginepri were the previous American triumvirate to reach the last eight of the men’s competition. On that occasion, 18 years ago, Agassi made it to the final before being beaten by Roger Federer.
Given Djokovic and Spanish superstar Carlos Alcaraz are both still in the draw, the likelihood of a home winner this year remains small – albeit not impossible.
World No. 9 Fritz says morale in the US group is high and that watching others be successful helps motivate his own performance.
“I’ve said it for a long time, whenever one of us does something, achieves something, it makes everyone else feel like they can do it, too,” he said, per the US Open website.
Fritz, who has cemented himself inside the Top 10 over the last year, certainly has the hardest opponent on Tuesday.
In Djokovic, he faces arguably the greatest tennis player of all-time, but the 25-year-old American said he would not be overwhelmed by the occasion.
“I’m not going to overplay. I’m not going to do anything different because I’m playing Novak,” he told reporters after reaching the quarterfinal.
“I’m going to play my game, play within myself and trust that if I play well, it’s enough.”
‘He’s Bugs Bunny’
While Fritz must find new levels to get past Djokovic, both Taifoe and Shelton face a very different type of challenge.
The pair know each other well. Bidding to make a second consecutive US Open semifinal, world No. 10 Tiafoe is the likely favorite for the clash and has dropped just one set at the tournament so far.
His 20-year-old opponent, though, certainly has the skills to cause Tiafoe problems. The youngster has a booming serve and an impressive forehand, but will be facing Tiafoe for the very first time in his senior career.
“It’s a big match. He’s Bugs Bunny. He’s got crazy energy, endless energy,” Tiafoe told reporters about facing Shelton.
“He’s going to come after me, and I’m going to come after him. It’s going to be a great battle, we’re going to compete really hard.”
Shelton upset fellow American Tommy Paul to reach his first US Open quarterfinal. The result matches his best run at a grand slam, having reached the same stage at the Australian Open earlier this year.
It’s further evidence of his impressive rise from outside the Top 100 last year to his current position as world No. 47.
“I really learned how to be mentally tough,” Shleton said, explaining how he’s improved since the Australian Open.
“When I was playing in Australia after a long week, I was looking at my box, saying, ‘My legs are dead. I’m tired. I can’t go anymore.’
“I realized how important it is for me to believe in myself, believe that I can go all the way, the full distance, emotionally and physically, and now I have that belief here.”