American men throw a Fourth of July party at Wimbledon

Wimbledon, England. Just in time for the Fourth of July weekend, American men are throwing a party on British soil.

As night fell at the All England Club on Thursday, eight American men had to qualify for the third round of the prestigious tournament. Wimbledon tournament, representing 25 percent of the final 32 places. This is the most American men in the third round of competition since 1995, when nine qualified during the heyday of Sampras-Agassi-Courye-Chang. It is also the highest total at any Grand Slam since the US Open in 1996.

Just about everywhere you look on Wednesday and Thursday, the American has been punching, chopping or grinding his way to the Final 32, and another will take his place on Friday. The sun seems to have set in an era where every male American player had a big serve and a forehand and nothing else.

Some were familiar faces, such as John Isner making his way past hometown favorite Andy Murray. But some of them were part of the next wave of rising Yankees in their early 20s, a cabal of Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, and Francis Tiafoe, who first bonded as teenagers at a national training center in Florida. And then there was a couple from the wave after that (Jenson Brooksby and Brandon Nakashima), who in a couple of years do not need daily shaving. Two Americans, Maxim Cressy and Jack Sock, one rookie, the other veteran, fought for the last seat available until rain broke their match at No. 1. 3 Court on Thursday.

“It’s been a long, long way to go,” said Martin Blackman, a former pro who is general manager of player development for the US Tennis Association.

Now, before anyone in the US rushes to the liquor store to take Pimm on the ice to celebrate the championship, it’s worth noting that no one expects any of these players to actually win the men’s singles title, at least not this year. American men’s tennis is deep but light on top.

There are now eight people in the US in the top 50 and 13 in the top 100, more than in any other country. Perhaps the most promising of all Sebastian Korda, son of former world no. 2 Peter Korda, was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon 10 days ago due to a split shin.

“I didn’t have anything to fish with,” Canada’s Denis Shapovalov said of Nakashima, who beat him in four sets on Thursday.

Despite this week’s crush, there are no Americans in the top 10, and only two in the top 20 – Fritz and Reilly Opelka. Russia and Spain each have two players in the top 10. Spain, the best tennis country of the last decade, has four players in the top 20.

But for a country where the pool of male talent has long been considered rather scarce, and since then there has been no Grand Slam champion. Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003., depth means significant progress. It also serves as a kind of motivational tool. A friendly competition has developed between Americans in their early 20s, led by Fritz, and those just or under the legal drinking age in the United States to play first in the final rounds of a Grand Slam tournament.

“They are great for us,” Paul, 25, said of Brooksby, Korda, both 21, and Nakashima, 20. “They are pushing us.”

“For tennis to develop, we need men’s winners,” he added.

The USTA knows it too. For many years he tried to hone the system to help develop players who will operate in a vast country of over 330 million people and more competition from more popular sports that are cheaper for good young athletes.

In Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, promising young teenagers often leave home for academies. Academic and psychological support can be subtle. The “lord of the flies”, the “sink or swim” environment is preserved. Despite its success in producing some outstanding talents and champions, including Novak Djokovic, this model was never going to work with American parents.

Instead, over the past decade, the organization has been trying to start a trout farm, not find a unicorn. He has developed a three-tier program of local, regional and national camps that bring together the best talent throughout the year, but also allows kids to stay home as long as possible and work with their own coaches. Airfare to the camps is not included, but pretty much everything else is included, even some money for private coaches to attend occasionally so they don’t feel squeezed out of the process as the young player gets older and better.

There is no universal approach. During the crucial years of development between the ages of 15 and 22, some players choose to work with USTA coaches and instructors at their training centers in Orlando, Florida or in Carson, California outside of Los Angeles. According to Blackman, Fritz was in the USTA program for six years, Paul for five years, Opelka for four years, and Tiafoe for three years.

Others, like Korda, Nakashima and Brooksby, choose to stay mostly out of the system, but they can still qualify for financial support and occasionally come to camp or show up at the training center to compete.

Blackman also does not want the organization to preach a certain style of play. Cressy’s serve and volley play is just as appreciated as Brooksby’s agility, Tiafoe’s serve and forehand power, and Nakashima’s approach to playing all over the court.

It was at one such camp, the National Assembly in Boca Raton, Florida, ten years ago that Fritz, Paul, and Tiafoe became friends for the first time.

“Those dorms were very boring, there was nothing to do, so we didn’t have much choice,” Fritz said recently.

Fritz, with his big feet and head of hair, and the least advanced game in the group, quickly became the group’s punching bag, friendly fight, of course.

“Such a big, stupid guy, you know he’s going to end up being targeted,” Tiafoe said.

Paul said Fritz took it well. Fritz also saw that the members of his new cabal were better at tennis than he was and began to work harder to catch up. Over the years, he has moved forward. Now he ranks first among Americans. 14 and the only one from the junior set that has won the Masters 1000 tournament, level just below the Grand Slam, appearing in Indian WellsCalifornia, earlier this year.

They remain close friends and sincerely invest in each other’s success, which helps during the long travel-filled season. Paul has been on the road for almost 10 weeks.

“I miss home so much that I feel sick,” he said on Thursday.

Correspondence and group dinners help, sometimes trendy, sometimes hamburgers and pizza, and long bull sessions. Tiafoe reached the final at a tournament in Portugal earlier this year. When he left the court after each victory, he found congratulatory notes from the team on his phone.

The big and extremely difficult task for the next generation and the next one still ahead is to get into the top ten and become an integral part of the last matches of the largest tournaments, as the Americans, led by the Williams sisters, did. for years.

It’s getting closer.

“I expect us to do well in all of these tournaments now,” Paul said. “It’s all about winning one more match and going one round deeper.”

Paul never competed in the second week of a Grand Slam tournament. On Friday, the first day of the third round with a big American company, he will get another chance.