Australian Open 2023: The great American giant stretches | Sports

Keyboards blare in the front row of the Melbourne Park press room, where US special envoys work overtime. His country is in the news when it comes to tennis, now that three of its male representatives will contest the quarterfinals of the Australian Open –for the first time since Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Chris Woodruf did so in 2000– and that the next Monday, 10 of the 50 players in the ranking of the ATP will carry the flag of the stripes and stars. That is to say, the great giant stretches, so the pilgrimage towards that first block of boxes It is mandatory because the oracle devises there; that is, Christopher Clarey, the journalistic eminence who writes in The New York Times and has covered more than 100 great ones, knowing all corners of the circuit. He receives in his own way: elegantly crossed legs and lopsided in front of the computer, impassive, glasses slightly lowered and head bowed to improve the field of vision during the explanation.

Clarey’s clinical eye diagnoses that what is happening is well-founded and that the awakening of the United States – in a large one, the triple presence in the quarterfinals has not occurred since 2005; then Agassi, James Blake and Robby Ginepri at the US Open – articulates on three legs.

The first responds to the substantial improvement of “the collaboration between the United States Tennis Federation (USTA) and the network of universities”, an essential historical quarry that began to produce in the fifties; the second comes from the previous one, and the journalist underlines “the importance of Patrick McEnroe (John’s brother) in directing the Player Development program (between 2008 and 2014) and the Spanish José Higueras (at the service of the federation since 1989) in the materialization of this training plan” to attract and promote talent; the third, already independent, is based on “family inheritance” and the transmission belt that goes from fathers and mothers to children, in the case of, for example, Ben Shelton (descendant of Bryan, eighth finalist at Wimbledon, 55th in the world), Brandon Holt (son of Trace Austin, number one and double champion in New York) or Sebastian Korda (Petr’s successor, crowned at the 1998 Australian Open).

Korda celebrates a point during the match against Hurkacz.
Korda celebrates a point during the match against Hurkacz.SANDRA SANDERS (REUTERS)

The first of the latter took his compatriot JJ Wolf, another fruit of the university factory, ahead of him on Monday, and at 20 years old and with only 12 games in the elite, he has already made sure to sneak into the 50 strongest, when a year ago year was the 569th; He is left-handed, plays with personality and drives a body that is 1.93 tall and almost 90 kilos.

“This is the first time I’ve competed outside of my country, and having come without expectations has contributed to my success,” he argues. Shelton studies Business and Business at the University of Florida, admires Roger Federer and in 2022 won the NCAA, the United States university league. In his second appearance in a major –He fell in the first round in New York, after receiving an invitation– his name sounds loud and in the quarterfinals he will meet Tommy Paul, who defeated Roberto Bautista (6-2, 4-6, 6-2 and 7- 5) and has been molded at the University of Georgia; he is 25 years old, he is the 35th and he is also being noticed these days. One or the other will equal the semifinal record set in 2009 by Andy Roddick, who made it to the top. The third American sticker in the next round is that of Korda, quoted last morning with Karen Khachanov and who at 22 years old (31st) also looks great.

In search of an Alcaraz

They are children of the USTA network, excited to see that the formula of the university fabric works at full capacity and that it also limits the female territory. There are Jessica Pegula (Pittsburgh), Danielle Collins (Virginia), Jennifer Brady (California), Sloane Stephens (Indiana), Sofia Kenin (Miami) or Allison Riske (Vanderbilt), as well as other players sculpted by the federation system such as Coco Gauff , Madison Keys, Amanda Anisimova, Bernarda Pera or Claire Liu.

“There were always some really good players coming out of college,” recalls Clarey, going back to Jimmy Connors (California), Brad Gilbert (Pepperdine) and John McEnroe (Stanford). “But in the 1990s, Agassi and Pete Sampras skipped the show and everything changed. Then they hired Patrick McEnroe and despite all the criticism he received, because it was said that he charged too much, he planted the seed of current success, ”continues the journalist; “A very good balance has been established between what the universities contribute and those who bet on private technicians. Youngsters stand out and don’t forget about Taylor Fritz [campeón de Indian Wells]Frances Tiafoe or Mackenzie McDonald [verdugo este de Nadal en la segunda ronda]”.

Tommy Paul returns the ball to Bautista.
Tommy Paul returns the ball to Bautista.HANNAH MCKAY (REUTERS)

In the offices of the USTA the consolidation of a robust base in the noble zone of the circuit is celebrated. Others such as Brandon Nakashima (21), Jenson Brooksby (22), Reilly Opelka (25) or Maxime Cressy (25) are added to the list of players mentioned above, reinforcing the good health of American tennis. Youth or an intermediate age predominates, with one exception. It is that of the giant John Isner, who with his 2.08 height and his 37 years plays the role of the veteran after 16 years on the ATP circuit.

However, the laboratory is working with the aim of ending a drought that goes back to 2003, when Roddick won the last men’s title at the US Open. Since then, many failed experiments and false illusions, because the USTA gear is having a hard time creating the new star that will definitively reactivate the great power. Clarey affirms it: “What we lack is an Alcaraz”.

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