Three American men have a shot at ending U.S. men’s tennis 20-year major drought

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NEW YORK — For the first time since 2005, three American men advanced to the quarterfinals of the US Open on Sunday. Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton all emerged victorious and will next play on Tuesday with semifinal berths on the line.

That achievement also makes this the first major since 1968 in which two Black American men (Tiafoe and Shelton) have reached this stage of the tournament.

It’s been a resurgent season for the countrymen as a group. The American mens’ struggles have been well documented in recent years. No countryman has won a major title since Andy Roddick did so at the US Open in 2003, and none have reached a final since 2009. The American women have remained a dominant force in the sport, with four women winning Slam titles since Roddick’s triumph, and now, a new crop of talented young Americans have begun to turn the men’s fortunes around.

For the first time in over a decade, two American men — Fritz and Tiafoe — are ranked in the top 10. Eight are currently in the top 50. Tommy Paul, who lost to Shelton on Sunday, reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in January, and at least one American is guaranteed to at least match that result in Queens this week.

So who are the three American men who have a chance to snap the 20-year major title drought? Here’s everything you need to know entering the quarterfinals.

Taylor Fritz

Ranking: 9
Age: 25
Best previous major result: 2022 Wimbledon quarterfinals
Up next: Novak Djokovic

The top-ranked American man and 2015 US Open junior champion, Fritz advanced to his first ever quarterfinals in New York on Sunday with a straight-set win over Dominic Stricker. Since the start of 2022, Fritz has won five ATP titles — including at the Master’s 1000-level Indian Wells in which he defeated Rafael Nadal in the final — and he reached his first quarterfinals at a Grand Slam at Wimbledon just months later.

He hadn’t advanced past the third round at a major this year prior to coming to New York but had won two hardcourt titles, including one in Atlanta. He said he felt pressure entering the US Open this year as a result of his recent success and less-than-stellar record at Slams but was trying to simply focus on one match at a time. As he’s yet to drop a set all tournament, his strategy seems to be paying off.

“I’m playing great but I’m not going to get ahead of myself,” he said after his third-round victory over Jakub Mensik.

But Fritz will now have his toughest challenge of the summer against Djokovic, the 23-time major champion and three-time winner in Queens. He’s never defeated Djokovic in seven previous attempts, but he pushed him to five sets in the third round at the 2021 Australian Open.

He acknowledged the match would be difficult during his on-court interview at Louis Armstrong Stadium after his fourth round victory, but he said a win wasn’t impossible.

“Novak’s gotten me a lot, [but] I think one of these times I’m going to get him so I’ll keep trying,” Fritz told the crowd. “At least I hope … I’ve got nothing to lose. So I’m going to go out there and have fun and play my best tennis because I know when I do, I give myself a chance.”

Frances Tiafoe

Ranking: 10
Age: 25
Best previous major result: 2022 US Open semifinals
Up next: Shelton

A heralded junior player who burst onto the professional scene with sky-high expectations, it didn’t take long for Tiafoe to achieve major success as he reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in 2019. It took some time for him to reach that level again — but he did just that last year at the US Open.

He became a household name in 2022 when he upset Rafael Nadal in the fourth round and ultimately fell to eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz in a five-set thriller. Fans were enamored by his never-quit attitude. He promised the crowd he would return to the US Open and win it, and he’s now three wins away.

While he didn’t fare as well in the year’s first three majors, he has won two titles this year, in Houston and Stuttgart, and cracked the top 10 for the first time. Tiafoe has dropped just one set in New York so far this year and has been in firm control of every match he’s played. He needed just two hours to close out Rinky Hijikata, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4, in the fourth round.

Tiafoe and Shelton are friends but have never played each other on tour. Tiafoe said Shelton had been hoping for the matchup and he was excited for the opportunity as well.

“Ben has wanted to play me at the Open for a long time,” Tiafoe said on Sunday. “So he’s going to be super excited. He’s going to come out with a lot of energy.

“I’m just going to have to tame him down, try to be the vet and get the win. It’s going to be good. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, I think great representation for people of color, right? Two people of color playing in the quarterfinals, huge match on Arthur Ashe. It’s a pretty monumental moment. I’m pretty excited to compete against him. Hopefully it’s a great battle.”

Ben Shelton

Ranking: 47
Age: 20
Best previous major result: 2023 Australian Open quarterfinals
Up next: Tiafoe

The 2022 NCAA singles champion from the University of Florida, Shelton is currently playing his first full year on tour. Just how new is Shelton to the international grind of the professional tennis schedule? He had never even left the United States before going to Australia to start 2023 and had to acquire his first passport in order to do so.

But his inexperience, as a player and a global traveler, was no matter. Playing in just the second major of his career, having lost in the first round of the 2022 US Open, Shelton advanced all the way to the quarters before falling to Paul. He had been unable to build on his momentum from Down Under and hadn’t had back-to-back tour wins since — but he brought his best level to Queens.

During the US Open, he has had a sensational run into the second week, including four-set victories over Paul on Sunday and 2021 Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev in the third round. During the win over Paul he had a serve recorded at 149 miles per hour — the fastest of the tournament — and then repeated the feat in the same game. He credited both to “straight adrenaline.” Currently ranked No. 47 and having been as high as No. 35 this year, he is expected to improve to No. 27 after reaching the quarterfinals.

Shelton is now the youngest American man to reach the quarterfinals at the US Open since Roddick in 2002, which happened before he was born. But despite his age, he’s more than familiar with the criticism towards American men’s tennis.

“It’s a shame that two of us have to play in the quarterfinals,” Shelton said. “Maybe we could have three in the semis. I think it’s a really cool opportunity for American tennis. This is what you guys always talk to us about: ‘Who’s going to be the next Grand Slam champion? Who’s going to do it?’

“I always have the same reply: ‘American tennis is going in a great direction and I don’t know who’s going to be the next to get a Slam, be the next Andy Roddick, but I know we’re all on our own path and we’re all doing things our own way and improving year to year.’ I can see it in these guys. Hopefully see the same kind of trend with myself. I’m not really too worried about what happens from here on and it’s pretty cool to know that at least one American is going to be in the semifinals here.”

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