It took some time, however after American Reilly Opelka and his huge serve had been eradicated within the fourth spherical of the U.S. Open on Monday by Lloyd Harris of South Africa, I made a decision to search around.

I needed to weave by way of the large crowds which have fortunately once more been a part of the expertise at this 12 months’s match. I needed to work my means up and down the concourse, analyzing the banners that commemorate, 12 months by 12 months, the previous Open champions — most of whom appeared to be named Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer — earlier than arriving at my vacation spot.

There, close to a espresso stand, dangling from the identical submit, had been banners that includes the final two American males to win the singles title at Flushing Meadows: Pete Sampras in 2002 and Andy Roddick in 2003.

It has been practically 20 years now, the longest hole within the historical past of this Grand Slam match between U.S. males’s champions. I lined each Sampras’ and Roddick’s victories, and there was no suspecting the size of the drought to return.

New American males’s stars had all the time emerged, generally with a slight delay however by no means this sort of delay. There was concern concerning the future when John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors received older within the Nineteen Eighties, however then alongside got here one of many best generations from any nation: Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang, with wonderful gamers like Todd Martin and MaliVai Washington taking part in secondary roles.

There was huge concern when these gamers aged out within the early 2000s, however Roddick nonetheless managed to succeed in No. 1 earlier than being left knee-deep by the genius of Federer and the inexorable rise of Nadal and Djokovic.

Roddick did his finest, little question, which was usually exceptional, reaching three Wimbledon finals and one other U.S. Open ultimate earlier than retiring in 2012.

But although Serena Williams, a winner of 23 main singles titles, has given American tennis followers loads to have a good time since then, no American man has reached a Grand Slam singles ultimate in additional than a decade because the Europeans have put a chokehold on males’s tennis.

“We got a little bit spoiled,” mentioned Brad Stine, the veteran U.S. coach who labored with Courier and now’s with younger American Tommy Paul.

There has been no room on this upscale neighborhood. The prime actual property has been occupied by the Big Three, which for a time might have been thought of the Big Five with Andy Murray of Britain and Federer’s Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka every profitable three main titles.

Now a a lot youthful group has emerged that you could possibly name the Next Four: Matteo Berrettini of Italy, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, Daniil Medvedev of Russia and Alexander Zverev of Germany. If you want, toss within the still-reigning U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem of Austria and Andrey Rublev of Russia, a top-10 participant.

They, like the celebrities they’re succeeding, are all Europeans.

Tennis is extra central to the sports activities tradition in Europe, attracting extra curiosity and presumably a larger share of top-quality athletes. There are extra skilled tournaments, each on the minor league and main league stage, in Europe.

But this season and this U.S. Open have provided up some proof for higher days forward for the American males. There are 14 within the prime 100, essentially the most since 1996. There had been 13 within the second spherical on the Open, essentially the most since 1994 when Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang had been in full stream.

But in contrast to these halcyon days, not one of the new-age Americans are ranked within the prime 20. There is depth however, for now, no actually elite gamers.

What bodes properly is that there’s youth. All three of the American males to succeed in the fourth spherical right here had been underneath 25: Opelka, 24; Frances Tiafoe, 23; and Jenson Brooksby, 20.

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, reacts after beating Jenson Brooksby, of the United States, in the course of the fourth spherical of the US Open tennis championships, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

“In the top 100, we’ve got a huge group of guys there; we just don’t have the world beaters,” Opelka mentioned after his 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 loss to Harris. “I don’t think we will have a Sampras-Agassi era of just dominance like that again. It’s rare for any country.”

Brooksby, the final American singles participant left within the match, definitely regarded like a world-beater for a set and a half Monday evening. In his first look in Arthur Ashe Stadium, he performed with intelligence and resilience to take a 6-1 lead on world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Brooksby then received again on serve within the second set after breaking Djokovic in an eight-deuce recreation that felt extra like chess than tennis. But Djokovic, chasing the Grand Slam, has been taking part in best-of-five set tennis for practically 20 years. Brooksby is simply beginning out and couldn’t preserve tempo, shedding 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Opelka, Tiafoe and Brooksby usually are not alone. Sebastian Korda is 21 and Brandon Nakashima is 20, and each even have had success this season with Korda reaching the quarterfinals of the Miami Open after beating three seeded gamers after which profitable his first tour title in Parma, Italy. Nakashima made the singles finals in Atlanta and Los Cabos, Mexico, and upset John Isner, essentially the most profitable American man of the previous decade, within the first spherical of this 12 months’s U.S. Open.

All this won’t have been price celebrating 25 years in the past, however it counts as excellent news now.

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