Novak Djokovic

This year’s US Open didn’t have the glamour or big names of the past.  Both Williams’ sisters weren’t participating, nor were Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. The women’s final had two unseeded players, including one who had to get through the preliminary rounds just to get into the tournament. There was no American player in the quarterfinals of either the men’s or women’s draw for the first time in the Open era (over five decades).

There was one thing that did generate some interest in this year’s Open. It was the possibility that Novak Djokovic would become the first man since Australia’s Rod Laver in 1969 to win a calendar Grand Slam. Djokovic had already won the Australian and French Opens as well as Wimbledon and many felt he was the odds-on favorite to take the U.S. Open. The 83-year-old Laver was even at courtside to root for Djokovic. Laver incidentally has accomplished the feat twice.

But the history that everyone wanted to see didn’t happen. Instead 25-year-old Daniil Medvedev, the number two seed from Russia, became the first male Russian winner of the United States Open. Medvedev had come close to winning the tournament before, reaching the final but losing in five sets to Rafael Nadel. However this time it was Medvedev who took the lead early and never looked back. He took the title in three straight sets, 6-4. 6-4, 6-4. Not only was it his first U.S. Open, it was his first Grand Slam title as well. Medvedev called Djokovic “the greatest player in history,” which certainly could be debated considering who was in the audience as well as the track records of Djokovic’s rivals Federer and Nadal.

Still, it was a surprise victory, one that was emblematic of an Open where most of the big names went out. A Djokovic victory might have obscured the questions that many continue to ask which is where are the next great American players? There’s a film coming out soon about the Williams sisters starring Will Smith as their father Richard, the man who personally turned his daughters into champions by playing on hard courts in Compton.

Sloan Stephens and Coco Gauff are part of the new order of American woman, though neither is close to Naomi Osaka. Osaka made headlines during the tournament by saying she was going to walk away from competitive tennis for a while to deal with mental health issues. However the publicity given these women helps take attention away from the fact there’s currently no real America male tennis star. 

No one has an explanation for that.  There are currently only five Americans in the ATP top 50 and none of them have won a Grand Slam title. Prior to the French Open Taylor Fritz was ranked number 30, John Isner was 31 and Reilly Opelka 32. Isner and Sam Querry, ranked 67 going into the French Open, are the only American males to even reach a Grand Slam semifinal. It’s been Isner’s misfortune to be playing in the era dominated by the big three of Djokovic/Federer/Nadal. The odds on him breaking through are not good, because as the US Open showed, when one of the big three get upset it’s usually in a final that no American player has managed to reach.

While none of them have yet shown the consistency needed to win multiple champions, there are 10 American women in the Top 50. When both Serena and Venus Williams finally say so long, there will be others to at least take their place as contenders for titles. By comparison, the next John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi or Arthur Ashe has yet to emerge.