The Baseline Awards are back with a look at the noteworthy accomplishments of 2021.


“Why not me?”

Three simple words with a lot of power behind them. They spurred Michael Chang, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras—four of the great American men's players—to Grand Slam titles and eventual enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, as they were motivated by each other’s successes.

Right now, that question appears to be having an impact on the next generation of ATP standouts from the United States.

With so much of the focus in 2021 coming on Novak Djokovic’s quest for tennis immortality, Daniil Medvedev’s ascension to Grand Slam champion and Alexander Zverev’s continued rise, the young Americans slipped under the radar to firmly establish themselves as contenders for top prizes in the years to come.

A late-season push that included a first Masters 1000 semifinal enabled Taylor Fritz to finish the year ranked 23rd and the U.S. No. 1. Reilly Opelka cracked the Top 20 at one point and reached a maiden Masters 1000 final. Frances Tiafoe advanced to the last 16 at the US Open for the second year in a row and played in the biggest championship match of his career in Vienna. Closing out 2021, Tommy Paul joined his three peers in the winner’s circle by capturing the crown in Stockholm, Sweden.

Fritz fell to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of this year's Rolex Paris Masters.

Fritz fell to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of this year's Rolex Paris Masters. 

Those four are inspired by each other’s achievements, like Agassi, Chang, Sampras and Courier were decades ago. And this current iteration may be even more tightknit, ready to cheer each other on as they climb the rankings together.

And the next crop of youngsters after Paul, Tiafoe, Opelka and Fritz made an impact on the ATP Tour, too.

Sebastian Korda, Jensen Brooksby and Brandon Nakashima all qualified for the Next Gen Finals. While he was unable to play in that tournament, Brooksby ended the season with a major prize as he was tabbed the ATP Newcomer of the Year. He was joined among the tour award winners by his compatriot Mackenzie McDonald, who was named Comeback Player of the Year.

In all, 12 American men finished the year among the ATP Top 100, more than any other country. Despite the continuance of a record-setting drought at the Grand Slam singles level—since Andy Roddick's 2003 US Open win—the future looks brighter than it has in years for the U.S., as the players look to find the answer to a simple question.