Seven Europeans in Miami quarter-finals: Deep crisis in US men’s tennis

By Jürgen Fritz, Wed 31 Mar 2021, Cover picture: ATP Tennis TV-Screenshot

The absolute European dominance in world men’s tennis continues once again. In the first Masters 1000 tournament of the year, the Miami Open 2021, the fifth biggest tournament of the year, a staggering seven Europeans are in the quarter-finals and only one US American: 20-year-old Sebastian Korda. Although more than half of the top European players did not start, the score in Miami is 7-1 for Europe against the rest of the world.

Sebastian Korda reaches the quarter-finals in Miami

Sebastian Korda is the son of the Czech former Australian Open winner Petr Korda. He was born and lives in Florida. And Korda is indeed the only non-European to make it to the last eight. He beat the Argentine world No. 9 Diego Schwartzman tonight. So here it was already clear before the match that an American would make it to the quarter-finals in Miami, Florida. The only question was whether it would be a South or a North American. And here, surprisingly, the No. 87 in the world prevailed against the No. 9, the 1.96-metre tall 20-year-old against the 1.70-metre short 28-year-old.

Reaching the quarter-finals in Miami is the biggest success in Sebastian Korda’s young career so far, alongside his run to the last 16 at the French Open in October 2020. His mother Regina Rajchrtová also played tennis under the Czech flag. And his two sisters Jessica (* 1993) and Nelly (* 1998) are also successful sportswomen. Both play golf professionally. Sebastian Korda has only played 16 matches on the ATP Tour before the tournament in Miami, with a record of 9-7. With his victory tonight, his fourth in a row in Florida, he has improved his record to 13-7. In the ATP live rankings, he has risen from 87 to 64, and with a win in the quarter-finals, he could even reach the top 50 for the first time. Until 2020, Korda has mainly played ATP Challenger tournaments (F and G categories) and ITF Futures (H, I and J categories).

No new top player from the USA for almost 20 years

For many decades, the USA was the world’s dominant nation in men’s tennis. But for many years they have been waiting for a new top player. After Andre Agassi (born 1970), Jim Courier (born 1970), Pete Sampras (born 1971) and Andy Roddick (born 1982), no US American ever again made it to the absolute top of the world. And Roddick, who made it to No. 1 in the ATP rankings for 13 weeks at the end of 2003 to the beginning of 2004, before Federer’s dominance began and then Nadal came along from 2005 and Djokovic in 2007, ended his career already in September 2012 at the age of only 30, after he simply could not keep up with these three for years. Before he ended his career, he was already no longer ranked among the top 20 in the world.

After Roddick, there was never another absolute top player from the USA. There is not a single US boy in the top five. Not even in the top ten. Not even in the top twenty. The highest ranked player in the official ATP rankings from last Monday is the now almost 36-year-old John Isner at position 28. And he will drop at least ten places to 38 after his elimination last night in Miami against Bautista Agut (Spain).

The biggest US hope in men’s tennis so far has been 23-year-old Taylor Fritz, currently ranked No. 32 in the world. Fritz is a very good tennis player and will certainly be able to establish himself in the top 30. But whether there is much more in it is at least questionable. I don’t necessarily see potential for the top ten. Last night, Fritz lost narrowly to the also 23-year-old Kazakh Alexander Bublik, the No. 44 in the world, and was thus eliminated like Isner.

Reilly Opelka, also 23 years old and world No. 41, was seeded in the first round (96s), but was even knocked out in his first match in the round of 64. Again, I don’t see any potential to go far up. Tommy Paul (23 years old, No. 51 in the ATP ranking) was even knocked out in the 96th round. Frances Tiafoe (23 years old, No. 58) at least made it to the round of 16, but lost yesterday to the tournament favourite, the No. 2 in the world, Daniil Medvedev, 4:6, 3:6.

There was a time when half the world’s top men’s tennis players came from the US – think Bill Tilden, Ellsworth Vines, Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzales, Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl after his naturalisation, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick, to name a few – and if they played against the rest of the world, the US would have won every time. Now the United States doesn’t even have a single player in the top 25. In short, we haven’t seen a new top player come out of the US, or North America for that matter, in almost 20 years.

Canada has three very good tennis players, but none of them make the top eight in the world

Canadian Milos Raonic (30 years old) briefly made the top five from October 2016 to March 2017, but then even fell out of the top ten a few months later. After that, he was never able to advance into the top ten again. Raonic is currently ranked 19th and was also eliminated in the round of 16 last night. He was narrowly defeated by the Spaniard Bautista Agut.

With the 22-year-old Shapovalov and the 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime, the Canadians currently have two really hot irons in the fire, more than the USA. The only thing is that Denis Shapovalov has been regarded as a huge talent for years, but has not managed to establish himself in the top ten. So far, he has not been able to record more than one tournament win at an E tournament (ATP 250 at Stockholm 2019). He can’t really compete with the top eight or even the top five. Shapovalov was eliminated in Miami already in the round of 32 against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, the world No. 37, and will now not even be able to hold the 11th position in the ATP ranking.

Félix Auger-Aliassime, the world No. 18, did not fare any better than his compatriot, who is just over a year older. He was also knocked out in the round of 32, where he lost twice to Isner in a tiebreak. Auger-Aliassime is certainly one of the greatest talents among the players under 22, he has already reached seven finals at ATP tournaments. But he lost all seven of them. Here, too, the impression is that he is a really very good tennis player, but it is doubtful whether he will make it into the top five.

Australia does not have a single player in the top 20

Also from the second very big tennis nation after the USA, from Australia, after Lleyton Hewitt (born 1981), who was outstanding in 2001 and 2002 and the No. 1 in the world, but already from 2004 on could not keep up with Federer and from 2005 on with Nadal, no absolute top player came. The 22-year-old Alex de Minaur probably has the greatest potential among the Australians at the moment. But he can’t even establish himself in the top-20, currently ranked 23. In Miami, he lost his very first match in the round of 64 against No. 113 in the rankings.

Nick Kyrgios, who will turn 26 in April, was hoped for a lot years ago, even a Grand Slam title (A) was expected of him. He played very well every now and then, won six tournaments, but never an A, B or C tournament. He never even made the top ten, not one week. He currently stands at 51, will drop even further and has hardly played any tournaments for over a year.

Even South America no longer has a player in the top eight

The last really great South American was Juan Martin del Potro (born 1988), who won the US Open in 2009 with a final victory over Federer. The tower from Tanil (the Argentine is 1.98 metres tall) has repeatedly had to battle with serious injuries throughout his career, but nevertheless made it into the top five several times, such as in 2009 to 2010, then in 2013 to the beginning of 2014 and finally again from 2018 to 2019. Del Potro, a giant sportsman in two senses, wants to know it again, had to undergo another knee operation, but wants to be fit enough by the Olympic Games in July so that he can participate there again. However, it will certainly not be enough for the 32-year-old to make it to the top of the world. In the ATP ranking, where he used to be No. 3, he is now only 173.

The Argentine Diego Schwartzman (No. 9) and the Chilean Cristian Garin (No. 20) are very good tennis players, but against the top eight players they usually have no chance and do not play in the same league.

Asia and Africa no longer have any top-30 players at all

There are also no more absolute top players from Asia and Africa. The Japanese Kei Nishikori belonged to the top eight in the world for years from 2014 to 2019 with a short interruption. After several injuries, the 31-year-old is no longer able to catch up with the world’s top players. In Miami, he was eliminated in the round of 32 against the strong Stefanos Tsitsipas.

And his 25-year-old compatriot Yoshihito Nishioka, currently ranked No. 66, has potential for the top-60, top-50 at most, but nothing more.

Africa is also no longer competitive. With Kevin Anderson, South Africa had a top player from 2013 to 2019, who mostly made it into the top-20, even into the top-eight in early 2018 to mid-2019. He even reached a Grand Slam final twice, in 2017 at the US Open and in 2018 at Wimbledon. But Anderson, who is already 34, is also failing to make it back to the top of the world after injury problems. He was eliminated in Miami in the very first round (round of 96).

Seven Europeans among the last eight in Miami

Currently, del Potro’s compatriot Diego Schwartzman is ranked 9th in the world. Argentina is also traditionally very strong in men’s tennis. Schwartzman, however, does not play in the same class as the top eight. At 28, he has never reached a Grand Slam final (A), never won a B (Olympics, ATP Finals) or C tournament (Master 1000). In Miami yesterday, he lost, albeit narrowly, 5-7 in the third to Sebastian Korda after 2:35 hours.

So we are back to the young American, perhaps the USA’s greatest hope in men’s tennis for the next few years. In the quarterfinals, Korda will now face Russia’s Andrey Rublev, the world No. 8, who has been in brilliant form since the beginning of 2020 and easily eliminated Cilic 6-4, 6-4 in less than 82 minutes. So, overall, we once again see complete dominance by the Europeans, who make up seven of the eight quarterfinalists, and that’s at the second-largest tournament in the United States.

The results of the round of 16

  1. Daniil Medvedev (Russia) – Frances Tiafoe (USA): 6-4, 6-3
  2. Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain) – John Isner (USA): 6-3 4-6 7-67
  3. Jannik Sinner (Italy) – Emil Ruusuvuori (Finland): 6-3, 6-2
  4. Alexander Bublik (Kazakhstan) – Taylor Fritz (USA): 6-75, 6-3, 6-4
  5. Sebastian Korda (USA) – Diego Schwartzman (Argentina): 6-3, 4-6, 7-5
  6. Andrey Rublev (Russia) – Marin Cilic (Croatia): 6-4, 6-4
  7. Hubert Hurcacz (Poland) – Milos Raonic (Canada): 4-6, 6-3, 7-64
  8. Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece) – Lorenzo Sonego (Italy): 6-2, 7-62

This will result in the following quarterfinal matches

  1. Daniil Medvedev (Russia) – Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain)
  2. Jannik Sinner (Italy) – Alexander Bublik (Kazakhstan)
  3. Sebastian Korda (USA) – Andrey Rublev (Russia)
  4. Hubert Hurkacz (Poland) – Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece)

Although more than half of the European players did not start, the score in Miami is 7-1 for Europe against the rest of the world

Three of the four best Europeans – Djokovic (Serbia, No. 1), Nadal (Spain, No. 3) and Thiem (Austria, No. 4) – did not even appear in Miami. Federer (Switzerland, No. 7) and Berrettini (Italy, No. 10) were also absent, and Zverev (Germany, No. 6 of the world) was disappointingly knocked out early on. So, even though more than half of the best Europeans didn’t show up and Zverev was eliminated early, the score in Miami is 7:1 for Europe against all other continents.

By the way, at the Laver Cup, which has been held since 2017, Team Europe always plays against Team World (all the other teams). And Team Europe has won every time so far. So it wouldn’t be bad if once again an absolute top player came from another continent. You could keep an eye on Sebastian Korda.

Highlights from Day 7 at Miami 2021


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