Vanity Fair profiles the ’emerging’ American tennis players ahead of the US Open

There is a very real worry that the sport of tennis will never “recover” from the retirements of their greatest generation. Roger Federer and Serena Williams retired within a month of each other last year, Rafael Nadal will retire next year and suddenly, Novak Djokovic looks vulnerable rather than unbeatable. Carlos Alcaraz became the first teenager to get to #1 in decades and the youths are coming. So, what’s the problem? The younger players on the come up haven’t proven themselves on or off the court and there’s a real fear that these names (other than Carlos) aren’t moving ticket sales or viewership. Serena’s retirement has left a huge, gaping hole in American tennis specifically, which might explain why Vanity Fair is trying to hype the “emerging” Americans ahead of the US Open. You can see the full VF portfolio here.

Here’s my thing – while I agree that a lot of these American players should absolutely get all the hype, I feel like VF sort of shoots itself in the foot by calling every single one of these players “emerging” simply because they haven’t won a Slam. Jessica Pegula has been top ten in singles and doubles for a few years AND she’s 29 years old. Madison Keys has made a Slam final and she’s 28 years old. They’re not emerging – they’re veterans of the tour, and both of them have been around and going up and down the rankings for the past decade. And that’s exciting too! While I enjoy watching younger players and how they handle their nerves and “the moment,” it’s also interesting to watch these veterans of the tour manage themselves and figure it out on court. They’ve also got 30-year-old Shelby Rogers here! I mean…?? This part of the VF piece was also too funny:

After decades of hand-wringing about who would take up the mantle, their heirs are now coming into their own. The current field of American pro tennis players is the most exciting, talented, and varied we’ve seen in decades—men and women alike. Both tours’ deep benches are dominating the sport’s competitions, and the global sport closest to paying men and women equally for their efforts is benefiting doubly for it.

But easily my favorite part about this new crop is their swagger. Their lack of baggage. Their feeling that American tennis history is just that—history. And their determination to write themselves into it. Behind the scenes at the French Open in Paris, VF surveyed the rising stars of American tennis as they headed into another spectacular season.

After a disappointing wave of one-dimensional American players—especially men who lacked elite skills beyond a serve and a forehand—we’ve suddenly got a crop of credible contenders who represent just about every pathway to professionalism, from Shelby Rogers’s homeschooling to Keys’s academy bona fides, to Michael Mmoh’s journey from prodigy to top 100. You want grit? You got it. You want the kind of flair historically associated with the European grass-and clay-court specialists? Coming right up.

[From Vanity Fair]

“After a disappointing wave of one-dimensional American players—especially men who lacked elite skills beyond a serve and a forehand…” Harsh but true – the American men have sucked for much of the past twenty years, minus Andy Roddick. It’s also true that the crop of twenty-something American men are definitely more interesting. But none of them have made a Slam final. Tommy Paul did make the Australian Open semifinal this year, and last year, Frances Tiafoe took out an injured Rafa Nadal and made it to the semis of the US Open. Plus, Taylor Fritz won Indian Wells last year and made it into the top ten. Which is a big deal, except he doesn’t do much of anything in Slams. What’s also funny is that with all of this hype… my guess is that the next American to have some kind of dream run probably wasn’t even included in this portfolio! That’s how all-over-the-place tennis is these days.

As for my faves… well, I have no faves for these photos, the editorial is too moody and weird. But for the sport, I’m always rooting for Big Foe (Frances Tiafoe), Danielle Collins, J-Peg, Coco Gauff and I throw some nominal support to guys like Sebastian Korda, Maxime Cressy and Ben Shelton. The thing which is always lurking with the American men is “how MAGA are these guys?” The answer is usually “very.”

On the eve of the US Open, VF takes a closer look at the emerging talents of American tennis.


— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) August 15, 2023

At the French Open in Paris, VF surveyed the rising stars of…

— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) August 15, 2023

Photos courtesy of Vanity Fair.

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