6 Americans who could win the Australian Open

Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

It has been almost 20 years since an American tennis player won a major (Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open) — an unimaginable gap for those who witnessed Sampras-Agassi’s glory days in the ’90s, not to mention the many American champions who preceded them. Fans eager for American talent have had plenty to enjoy in the women’s game over the past two decades, Serena Williams especially. But on the men’s side, they often had to settle for watching big-serving John Isner reach the quarterfinals before losing in four sets 7-6.

That is changing — and quickly. Two of the most famous young American tennis players, Frances Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz, lost in the third round of this year’s Australian Open. (Possible lesson for Fritz: don’t participate in Netflix docu-series.) But the fact that six Americans remained in the field speaks to the depth of talent that has emerged in the U.S. in recent years. There are now 13 Americans in the top 100, and only one of them is Isner.

The domestic surge coincides with a new era in the men’s game. After many years of almost complete dominance by three players – and many years of predictions that this would change – it seems that the men’s game has finally opened up. Roger Federer retired, Rafael Nadal he looks more vulnerable than he has been in the last 17 years, and Novak Djokovic … okay, it’s still damn good. Djokovic is still the heavy favorite to win in Australia this year, although a hamstring injury could make him beatable. But with world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz injured and a string of big problems over the first few days, anyone can claim the rest of the draw, and the Americans are taking advantage.

So who are the six Americans left in the hunt at the Australian Open? Before the third round ends on Saturday, here’s a quick guide:

Arguably the most promising of the American men left in Melbourne – and perhaps the most promising young American of the period – Korda, 22, crushed No. 7 seed and 2022 finalist Daniil Medvedev in straight sets on Friday to reach the fourth round, or round of the finals. (He’s the only American to do so so far, though a pair of All-Americans on the other side of the draw guarantees he’ll be joined by at least two more.)

Currently ranked 31st in the world, Korda reached the fourth round of the 2021 French Open and 2021 Wimbledon. He seemed ready for the tournament to come: He made it to the final at the Adelaide qualifier and had a match point against Djokovic. He couldn’t convert against the unflappable Serb — who praised his game before and after the match — but Korda’s win against Medvedev could be the confidence boost he needs for a deep run in Melbourne. And he has pedigree in that department; his father is Petar Kordawith scissors, the Czech who won the Australian Open in 1998.

The 20-year-old turned pro less than a year ago after winning the men’s singles college championship while playing for the University of Florida. (Shelton, like Korda, has tennis in his blood: His father, who coached him in Florida, was a top 100 player in the ’90s.) America’s collegiate champions haven’t had much success in major tournaments recently. decades, but Shelton may be an exception. He won three ATP Challenger titles last year, toppled Casper Ruud in the ATP Finals and reached world No. 81, good enough to qualify for the Australian Open. A measure of Shelton’s newness to the scene: He would he has never been out of the country before last week.

In the first round, he knocked out another promising talent, China’s Zhizhen Zhang, in five sets. And thanks to Fritz’s loss, he has a very winnable third-round match against Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin.

The jovial 25-year-old was one of the most lauded juniors of the mid-2010s, winning the 2015 French Open boys’ title (against Taylor Fritz). For years, his professional career fell through due to a series of injuries. But Paul has turned things around since hiring a new trainer in 2019 to help him focus on his fitness and deliver on at least some of his early promises. Last year, Paul beat Alcaraz and Nadal to reach the Wimbledon round of 16. He is now number 35 in the world. As Caira Conner wrote for New York last fall, Paul’s speed and hard base game were his calling cards. He will need both to be in good shape to win his third round match against another American…

Brooksby, 20, is a rare top-ranked pro with his signature style of tennis. His weak serve looks like something you’d see at your local tennis club; he lacks any kind of dominant groundstroke. Still, Brooksby consistently harasses opponents by returning almost every ball and is ready to hit any shot (a drop shot, the odd slice backhand) at any moment — a classic annoying but formidable tennis opponent.

Brooksby won the USTA Under-18 Championship in 2018 and has since climbed the professional ranks, reaching the fourth round of the US Open and a world ranking of 39. He had the biggest win of his career this week, defeating No. 3 seed and US Open finalist Ruud. He showed real mental toughness after seizing the opportunity to beat the Norwegian in two sets before coming back strong to finish him off in the fourth.

Man once best known for its mullet he’s having a great 12 months. Wolf, 22, who was the top-ranked college player at Ohio State, reached the third round of the 2020 U.S. Open, which was interrupted by COVID, then underwent hernia surgery in 2021 that sidelined him for most of the year . But he bounced back with some impressive results last year, including wins against top players Holger Rune and Denis Shapovalov and a run to the third round of the US Open that included defeating Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut. Although he wasn’t at the top of the prospect list, Wolf has a huge serve and a fearsome forehand — enough weapons to make a name for himself. Wolf faces another American in the third round…

Who is Mmoh? Even fairly involved tennis fans are asking the same question this week. Mmoh, 25, is not that unclear — won the USTA Under-18 title back in 2016 and has played in several majors, reaching the second round twice in Australia — but is currently ranked 107th in the world, has a career record of 14 pros -27, and was not on many people’s radar. Mmoh didn’t even qualify for this year’s edition, but went through as a “lucky loser” when Belgium’s David Goffin pulled out. After defeating world number 13 Alexander Zverev in the second round, by far the biggest win of his career, Mmoh has come as far as any lucky loser before him. If he beats Wolf on Saturday, he will break the record. That would be fitting because it seems like anything is on the table at this year’s Australian Open.

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