At Indian Wells, a Shot of Optimism for American Men’s Tennis


It is no takeover: The top 10 remains nearly all European, with Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada as the lone interloper. But it is progress, and there appears to be considerable upside.

“I think that’s true,” said Patrick McEnroe, an ESPN analyst, former pro player and U.S. Davis Cup captain. “I think particularly from Opelka, Brooksby, Korda and maybe throw Fritz in there, although I don’t know if he’s got the athleticism to get to the top-top.”

McEnroe, like a lot of people in tennis, looks at the 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, with his blazing speed and all-action, all-court game, and clearly sees a future No. 1 player.

“I wouldn’t say that about the Americans,” McEnroe said. “But I would say, to me, I could see Brooksby, Korda and Opelka definitely hitting the top five at some point and definitely getting to the final four or final of a major. That’s what it’s going to take to get the average fan a little bit more interested in it, no doubt. So, I’m very optimistic, and if you have one or two of those guys do that, I think the other guys will feel even more emboldened.”

For now, the Americans have a daunting Wednesday ahead with Opelka facing Nadal, Brooksby facing the defending tournament champion Cameron Norrie, Fritz facing the No. 29 seed Alex de Minaur, and Isner facing the No. 33 seed Grigor Dimitrov.

This has been a long time building, and McEnroe had a view near the ground floor as the head of the United States Tennis Association’s player development program. He was pushed out in late 2014 in part because of poor men’s tour results. When his tenure ended, Isner was the only American man ranked in the top 50, but while in his role, McEnroe heard and saw plenty of Opelka, Paul, Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, a charismatic African American player from the Washington, D.C., area.

All four are projected to be ranked in the top 40 after this tournament, with Opelka currently the top-ranked American at No. 17.


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