Roddick, Blake, Courier Optimistic About American Prospects
Former champions think the group will benefit from competing against each other
American tennis fans should be “optimistic” about the group of young Americans rising through the Emirates ATP Rankings and winning ATP World Tour matches as teenagers, former American champions Jim Courier, Andy Roddick and James Blake said on Sunday at the Winston-Salem Open.
But fans should resist setting any lofty expectations for the group just yet. Instead, they'd be wise to enjoy the group's attempted climb to the top.
“I think they should be optimistic,” Roddick said of fans. “I prefer that term over expecting anything.”
But it's been six years since an American won an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title (Roddick, Miami 2010). He and James Blake also were the last Americans to claim spots in the Top 5 – Roddick, August 2009; Blake, January 2007.
The former champions are hopeful for a turnaround, though. They see a hungry group of young Americans eager to bring their country back to the top of the ATP World Tour.
Leading the way is #NextGen star Taylor Fritz, who will make his Winston-Salem singles debut on Monday. In the past 12 months, Fritz, a strong candidate for this year's ATP Star Of Tomorrow presented by Emirates, has climbed 624 spots in the Emirates ATP Rankings to No. 54.
In Winston-Salem, he'll look for revenge against another up-and-coming American: 18 year old Frances Tiafoe, who has hiked 151 spots in the past 12 months to No. 124. The two have played four times, including three times in juniors and at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells earlier this season. Tiafoe has won every time.
“I've never won so I'm really looking forward to tomorrow,” Fritz said.
The list of young Americans continues: 18-year-old Reilly Opelka reached the semi-finals of the BB&T Atlanta Open earlier this month; 19-year-old Tommy Paul won his first tour-level match earlier this season in Houston; 18-year-old Stefan Kozlov knocked off Johnson in 's-Hertogenbosch in June; 20-year-old Noah Rubin is ranked No. 193; and 18-year-old Michael Mmoh won the USTA Boys' 18s National Championships a week ago.
“We've had some very good players pop through [but] this is the first time we've had this amount of depth at that level. I'm very hopeful, very optimistic,” said Courier, who was in Winston-Salem with Roddick and Blake for an exhibition on Sunday evening. “I think they can play off of each other, share some of the pressure, share some of the expectations and also push each other.”
The American tennis generation Courier grew up in included himself, former World No. 1, former World No. 2 Michael Chang and former World No. 1's Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. They all benefited from developing as a group, Courier said.
“We were able to push each other and really propel each other to greater heights,” he said.
Roddick, Blake and Mardy Fish also pushed each other and shared a “healthy jealousy”, Roddick said. He's talked with most of the up-and-comers and is optimistic because he hasn't noticed a sense of entitlement that has accompanied past American tennis prospects.
“They know that they have to earn their place and I think that's a great thing,” he said.
It's far too early, though, to set specific expectations for them, Blake said. Their bodies have yet to go through a full season on the ATP World Tour. They also lack significant match experience against some of the game's best players.
“I want to see who's going to progress because right now they're all still pretty raw,” Blake said.
Fritz said he believes he and others will produce results that all American tennis fans will enjoy. It just might take a little bit.
“The one thing to say to the fans is it's probably going to take time. And just let it happen. Just let it happen,” Fritz said. “This group is going to be really good. As long as not too many expectations and not too much pressure is put on this whole group, I think we're going to have a lot of Top 50 players and a lot of Top 20 players.”