MIAMI HIGHLIGHTS: Fritz tops best friend Paul

It increasingly appears that the Tennis World Order of the past two decades is crumbling. It isn’t just the uncertain status of Novak Djokovic, the age of Roger Federer, or the injury history of Rafael Nadal. This is a time of flat-out disruption.

Daniil Medvedev has eclipsed Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and other players once hyped as heirs to the Big Three; sensational Carlos Alcaraz may be the next incarnation of Nadal; while Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud, Hubert Hurkacz and Jannik Sinner—unfamiliar not long ago—are becoming billboard material.

And best of all—for U.S. fans—long-beleaguered American pros are taking advantage of the hurly-burly. A fistful of talented 24-and-under players, some of them slow-but-reliable learners, seem to be coming of age as serious contenders for big titles.

“The last few months have been the most promising for American men’s tennis since Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003,” Tennis Channel analyst Pam Shriver told me. “We heard for so long that they are coming on, coming on, coming, but it never really happened. . . until now.”

It’s hard to pin down exactly when or why the American game caught fire, but the 2021 US Open is as good a marker as any. Since then, four of the half-dozen players leading the American surge have attained career-high rankings. The other two are—literally—a tick or three off their best. Jimmy Arias, also a Tennis Channel analyst and the director of player development for tennis at the IMG Academy, put it this way:

“It feels like these guys are grizzled veterans because they have been around and talked about for a long time. But the Big Three were still winning everything. It may be changing, and that’s the thing Taylor Fritz drove home in Indian Wells.”

It may seem like the wait has been overlong, but Craig Boynton, long-time mentor of John Isner and now coach of No. 14-ranked Hurkacz, said of this generation’s long developmental period: “Developing is a process, everyone goes through it differently. You don’t scream ‘grow!’ at a tree.”

With all that in mind, we asked an expert panel to give us their takes on the U.S.’ surging six: Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Jenson Brooksby and Sebastian Korda. In addition to Shriver, Arias, and Boynton, we spoke with tennis coach/data analyst Craig O'Shannessy, as well as Paul Annacone, another Tennis Channel commentator and former coach of another American star, Pete Sampras (oh, and some guy named Roger Federer).


Fritz became the first American to win the Indian Wells crown since Andre Agassi and Serena Williams in 2002.

Fritz became the first American to win the Indian Wells crown since Andre Agassi and Serena Williams in 2002.

Taylor Fritz

  • Age: 24
  • Ranking: No. 13 (career high)
  • 2022 Record: 16-5
  • Recent Highlights: Won Indian Wells Masters 1000 title in 2022, and made semis there in 2021. Earned wins over Rafael Nadal, Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini, Alexander Zverev, Jannik Sinner and Felix Auger-Aliassime

Fritz grew up attending and fantasizing about hoisting the trophy at Indian Wells, not far from his birthplace in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. He accomplished the storybook feat less than a month ago by virtue of a triumph over Grand Slam singles title king Nadal. That puts Fritz, one of the most diligent in this cohort, a rung above his peers.

Arias: These days in tennis, you need a weapon—which Taylor now has—and you need to be a great mover. Taylor always hit the ball great and served huge. But I wasn't sure he moved well enough to get to the top. He really improved that part of his game and now covers the court much better. Before, if Taylor had to go on defense, he would struggle. Now he crushes groundstrokes, makes fewer errors and can turn tables on defense.

Shriver: Taylor has gotten where he is through a lot of hard work and a really nice progression. His success didn’t come out of the blue as it did for, say, Emma Raducanu. He has a very solid foundation now for the future.

Boynton: He’s improved tremendously on his weaknesses, filling in the holes in his game. When you do that, it’s hard to find other holes. He’s become a real tough out.

O'Shannessy: He is so balanced at the baseline. A lot of players like to run around the backhands to use the forehand as a weapon in the ad court. Taylor is different. He doesn’t feel vulnerable standing and delivering off the backhand side. He has this great, side-angled backhand that can make people uncomfortable.

Historically, great players have a really “good” loss before going to the next level. Taylor had one of those when he made the semis at Indian Wells last fall. Craig O'Shannessy

Annacone (currently on Fritz’s coaching team): The great news is that there are still huge areas of improvement to be made by Taylor. He needs to get better around the net, and kind of three feet inside the baseline. He has the tools to do that. Taylor also has the best competitive mind among the young guys, and he is one of the most stubborn people I ever met.


Success on clay isn't out of the question for Opelka, who made a semifinal run at the Masters 1000 event in Rome last year.

Success on clay isn't out of the question for Opelka, who made a semifinal run at the Masters 1000 event in Rome last year.

Reilly Opelka

  • Age: 24
  • Ranking: No. 18 (one spot off career high)
  • 2022 Record: 13-6
  • Recent Highlights: Won Dallas Open, was finalist at Delray Beach and semifinalist in Sydney. Earned wins over Denis Shapovalov, John Isner, Kevin Anderson and compatriot Brooksby

Opelka may be the most feared player on the ATP, because at 6'11", his serve is a radical weapon—and he can back it up with solid baseline play and surprisingly good speed. Moodiness has sometimes held him back.

Boynton: He’s the one guy where. . . it’s all about how he's playing. You just plug in an opponent and whoever it is will be uncomfortable. And his game is evolving as his competitive drive becomes more consistent.

Reilly is hysterically funny, but he can be brutally harsh on himself. You see that in the negativity that sometimes comes out. But it’s happening less now. His athleticism is amazing for a big man, but I hope he doesn’t forget he needs to play “big man” tennis. He still has to serve big, and find ways to come forward. Paul Annacone

O'Shannessy: Reilly handles himself fine in long rallies, but his desire to end points, and being okay with it if he misses on either side, is a good template. He will realize over time that there are times in a rally when he really needs to pull the trigger, and times when he does not. That’s the missing piece in the puzzle—figuring out how he can make the opponent miss, without thinking he needs to end it with the first or second forehand he hits.

Arias: I always felt he should be Top 10 his whole life. He’s seven-feet tall, serves amazing, has a great backhand and can run unbelievably. He plays exactly the way he should, but it feels like he doesn't compete as well as he needs to. That's the part that needs work.


On Tuesday, it was announced that Tiafoe had signed with IMG Tennis for representation.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Tiafoe had signed with IMG Tennis for representation. 

Frances Tiafoe

  • Age: 24
  • Ranking: No. 30 (one spot off career high)
  • 2022 Record: 4-5
  • Recent Highlights: Vienna finalist in 2021; semifinalist in Stockholm. Earned over Korda, Tsitsipas, Diego Schwartzman, Sinner

Tiafoe seems to have snapped out of the complacency he fell into with his first taste of fame and fortune, but a number of injuries has also slowed him. He’s yet to build the kind of consistency that he needs to move up one or two levels.

Boynton: If you don’t have that “magic eraser” shot or something else that is head-and-shoulders above everyone else, then everything you do has got to be very consistent, very on-point. You have to bring close to same high level, match-in, match-out. That takes time, especially when you’re coming back like Frances from injury.

Training and living at the Junior Tennis Champions Center has helped make him a player with incredible upside, partly because he worked a lot on clay (Har-Tru). The pieces are all there to be put together. Pam Shriver

Annacone: Tiafoe is an interesting one. The most important thing to go from good to very good, and from very good to great, is your identity. Who you are as a player? What is your default mode at the biggest moments? The all-time greats know the answer to that. It’s challenging for Frances, because he has lots of options in how to play and that can be confusing in big moments.

Arias: Tiafoe has amazing athletic ability, the way he can come in, stay back, do different things. If he could stay steady mentally, he has a very high upside.


Paul is yet to lose back-to-back matches in 2022.

Paul is yet to lose back-to-back matches in 2022.

Tommy Paul

  • Age: 24
  • Ranking: No. 34 (career high)
  • 2022 Record: 14-7
  • Recent Highlights: Stockholm champion last fall; semifinalist at 2022 Delray Beach. Earned wins over Rublev, Fritz, Andy Murray, Tiafoe, Denis Shapovalov, Matteo Berrettini, Zverev

Who doesn’t love watching Paul, the 6'1" right-hander whose silken game and easy demeanor remind some of Federer? The consensus is that until now, Paul was held back by an overly casual attitude to training. Thanks to coach Brad Stine, among other things, that appears to be changing—hence his recent success.

O’Shannessey: I love what Tommy is doing with opponents’ second serves, stepping in, almost like a SABR (Sneak Attack by Roger, a Federer specialty). At times it’s sensational. He is attacking with his feet first and his racquet second, taking time away and rushing opponents.

Tommy’s biggest improvement has been competing consistently. He’s become a match-in, match-out, full-on competitor. I really like Tommy. He’s the cool kid on the block—so much fun to watch and to be around, it’s like he doesn’t have a stressed bone in his body. Craig Boynton

Arias: Tommy is a great athlete who has fewer weapons than some of his contemporaries. Fritz hits a bigger ball, Opelka serves bigger, Tiafoe has quickness and that all-court game. But Tommy has next-level speed. To me, the game today is about the serve, the return—and then how well you can get out of trouble, because you will get in a lot of trouble during lots of points in today’s game.

Annacone: Tommy is so athletic, like one giant fast-twitch fiber. Brad Stine has helped Tommy figure out how to take the ball on the rise and take time away from opponents, and how to get to net and use his athletic skills there.


At this time last year (the April 5, 2021 rankings week), Brooksby was the world No. 231.

At this time last year (the April 5, 2021 rankings week), Brooksby was the world No. 231.

Jenson Brooksby

  • Age: 21
  • Ranking: No. 36 (career high)
  • 2022 Record: 9-4
  • Recent Highlights: Finalist at 2022 Dallas Open; semifinalist in Antwerp last year. Earned wins over Opelka, Roberto Bautista Agut and Tsitsipas

Upon emerging on the tour, Brooksby immediately caught the attention of almost everyone with his unorthodox game and highly developed competitive drive. He is one of a kind, his game a blur of drop shots, counterpunches, puffball serves, epic digs and Houdini-like escapes from desperate situations.

Shriver: He’s a good competitor with a bright future, but I worry that he might be reading his press too much. He needs to do a little soul searching about his behavior and temper. Maybe he’s feeling the pressure of expectations.

Annacone: He’s so peculiar, you watch him hit a ball and move and serve and think, ‘That kid should not be able to play.’ But his court sense and ability to dissect what’s happening is better than any other young player I’ve watched. He’s like Andy Murray in his ability to see and exploit a weakness. Sure, his serve needs to get better, but Rafa doesn’t serve great either, and he never gets broken.

Jenson is kind of a cross between Michael Chang and Lleyton Hewitt. He has the tenacity of Hewitt and the consistency, ball tolerance, and athleticism of Chang. Guys like that figure out how to make opponents miss. Craig O’Shannessey

Arias: He’s cool to watch; he plays differently than anyone else. So unorthodox he looks almost ridiculous. But his vision on the court is incredible. You hit a drop shot and he’s already started running before you start to swing. Athletically, he’s not where needs to be, at 6'4" with a 105 m.p.h. serve. But it’s just amazing to watch him figure out how to win.

Boynton: There will be growing pains, bumps in the road. But what a competitor.


Korda will look to make it beyond the quarterfinals of an event for the first time in 2022 when he transitions to red dirt.

Korda will look to make it beyond the quarterfinals of an event for the first time in 2022 when he transitions to red dirt.

Sebastian Korda

  • Age: 21
  • Current Rank: No. 41 (three spots off career high)
  • 2022 Record: 8-5
  • Recent Highlights: Earned wins over Paul, Marin Cilic, Cameron Norrie

Like Fritz, whose mother Kathy May was a Top 10 WTA pro, Korda is a tennis blueblood. His father Petr is an Australian Open champion, and his mother Regina was a WTA staple for many years. “Sebi” rolled into the big-time quickly and smoothly, as if becoming a Grand Slam success were his birthright. But he lacks any sense of entitlement, and has already known a fair share of frustration and agonizing losses. His resilience has been admirable.

Annacone: Everything I'm hearing from his dad, Andre Agassi, and coach Dean Goldfine suggests that the kid is going to tick all the boxes. He doesn’t serve like a 6'5" guy yet, though. He has yet to decide what kind of server he will be, a serve-plus-one guy or an aces guy. It’s not a technique issue, it’s a mentality issue.

I’d be surprised if at some point he doesn’t win a major. He has the mentality, that calm, and while the serve and forehand need a little cleaning up, he already has one of the best returns in the game. Jimmy Arias

O’Shannessey: Everything is good. The serve motion is clean and simple, as are the forehand and backhand. He feels the magnetism of the baseline. His body is a tennis prototype: tall, but not especially muscular. Korda is more tendon-drive. His body is going to give him the same kind of automatic advantage as Djokovic and Medvedev enjoy.


American men post Miami

American men post Miami

American men traditionally and largely prefer the hard-court game, which now gives way to the European clay swing. That could prove problematic, but in 2015 Fritz and Paul battled for the French Open junior title (Paul won), and Tiafoe played a lot of his early tennis on clay, albeit green Har-Tru.

Boynton believes that Paul will go really deep at the French Open one day. Shriver may be more of a realist.

“As good as these guys are,” she said, “I somehow don’t think our long (Grand Slam) drought will finally come to an end at the French Open.”