Monday, October 19, 2015

Taylor Fritz Surges to the Top of a Deep American Teenage Class

It's no secret that serious help is on the way for American men's tennis.  The timing couldn't be better, given that we've seen the headline: "No American Man Makes it Past Third Round at Major" more times than fans of American men's tennis care to count over the past decade.  But now it appears there may be something special brewing with the likes of Taylor Fritz, Jared Donaldson, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Michael Mmoh, Reilly Opelka, and Stefan Kozlov amongst a few others.  All have impressive accomplishments to their name, including Fritz's junior US Open title, Paul's junior French Open title, Opelka's junior Wimbledon title, Tiafoe's Kalamazoo title, and Donaldson's status as a top 150 pro.

While several members of this emerging group have taken turns at the forefront over the last year or so, at the moment Fritz has sprinted to the front of the pack.  He recently won the US Open junior title and became the number one junior in the world.  Then, the newly turned pro just won two Challengers in extremely impressive fashion.  He beat Donaldson in the finals of the first Challenger in a tight three setter, and beat the talented Dustin Brown twice along the way.  Most everyone else struggled to even get a set off him, as he simply rolled through several talented opponents.  He's now up to 232 in the world, and he spent most of the last year playing junior tournaments. 

Some American fans will continue to be cynical and feel like they've been let down by too many hyped up American prospects. This may be true, but with Fritz and other members of this group there's substance to back up the hype.  Any 17 year old who wins multiple Challenger titles right after turning pro is clearly a serious talent.  The fact other Americans before him have fallen short shouldn't keep them from getting excited about Fritz's prospects as a top level pro.  He's clearly not there yet and will have to continue to push himself, but it looks like he'll soon belong in the same conversation with the world's other top teenagers such as Zverev, Kokkinakis, Coric, Rublev, Chung and a couple others. 

There's no need for Fritz to rush things, as he'll need to build up his fitness so he can withstand the rigors of the ATP Tour.  The other international teens may be ranked higher at the moment, but that doesn't mean they're all better long term prospects than Fritz (though many of them are quite good prospects themselves).  However, given how they've all raised their rankings, if Fritz wants to keep pace he probably should have his sight set on a spot in the top 50-80 in the world a year from now.

Other members of the American contingent are obviously aware of Fritz's success, and won't want to fall too far behind.  Even if Fritz stays in front of the pack, the fact that Donaldson, Tiafoe, Paul and others are all making moves of their own should help create a positive competitive environment within the group.  For fans of American men's tennis who just want to see someone succeed at the game's highest level, well it may just be time to get your hopes up once again.  

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