In Florida, the tennis generation is emerging that must follow in the footsteps of Sampras and Agassi
The best American tennis players are formed in the southern state of Florida. In the ever-warm Sunshine State, a hopeful new generation of men from the United States will play a home match this week at the Miami Open, a key stop on the tennis calendar.
With the Indian Wells championship, just earlier in Western California, Miami is vying for its unofficial fifth major championship title. Since 2019, the largest games have been held at the Miami Dolphins football stadium, as the organizers built a smaller stadium, which still has a capacity of 14,000 spectators. The rest of the lanes are in the parking lot.
About the author
Described by Quinn van der Velden De Volkskrant About Sports in the United States. Lives in New York.
The fact that US tennis is experiencing a new boom can be seen in the field of participants in Miami: no fewer than thirty Americans started the singles tournament last week. Fourteen men and sixteen women among them.
Almost all of them are trained in Florida, an influential state for American tennis, but also globally. Most of the great American players – players like Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Coco Gauff – live in the state where many former players also remain after their careers. In Miami, Serena Williams, who stopped last year, is enjoying her retirement.
Miami was Novak Djokovic’s second residence until a vaccination refusal prevented him from entering the country. The Serb is missing in Miami, as he was missing in Indian Wells.
Florida has become a breeding ground for American tennis due to its pleasant climate, which has attracted leading coaches to the state. Pioneers like Jimmy Evert who accompanied his daughter Kris, an eighteen-time Grand Slam winner, and others to Fort Lauderdale.
In 1977 Nick Bollettieri opened his famous tennis school in Bradenton. The American, known for his carnal discipline, has coached compatriots Andre Agassi and Jim Courier to the world’s top, but has also taken foreigners like Boris Becker, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, Marcelo Rios and Tommy Haas under his wing. Politieri passed away late last year at the age of 91 in Bradenton, where his school lives under the name IMG Academy.
Almost every American tennis success story has its origins in Florida. The Williams sisters trained (in part) there, and Pete Sampras perfected his game there. With Sampras, Agassi and, to a lesser extent, Michael Chang and Jim Courier, the Americans dominated world men’s tennis in the 1990s.
What followed was a two-decade drought. The last cramp came in 2003, when Andy Roddick won the US Open. Roddick remains the last American Grand Slam winner. “We get asked so much about it that it gets a little annoying,” world number 10 Fritz said in Miami. “But maybe it’s because we now have more favorites to win a major. Realistically, it could happen in any of the upcoming tournaments.
In the last two major tournaments, an American has reached the semifinals: Francis Tiafoe at the US Open, Tommy Paul at the Australian Open. Young Sebastian Korda (22) and Ben Chilton (20) reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne. At the last edition of Wimbledon, eight of the last 32 players held US passports.
The American tennis players know each other from the National Training Center in Florida. In 2017, the USTA Tennis Association opened a new complex in Orlando for nearly €60 million with 100 courts, some with data collection technology. Major racket manufacturers Wilson, Head and Babolat test their latest discoveries there. The training center aims to push American tennis to new heights.
The men are striving to achieve the success that their female colleagues have enjoyed in recent decades, although it has been almost exclusively due to Venus and Serena Williams.
Neither the new Pete Sampras nor Andre Agassi has risen yet, at the moment the American men are mainly excelling in the show. There are nine Americans in the top fifty of the world rankings, more than any other country. Only 25-year-old Fritz is in the top 10, the first American since Roddick in 2009.
The Tiafoe ceiling, but particularly on the Korda and perhaps the Shelton, seems to be higher. America’s hopes rest on them. Korda, the son of former Grand Slam winner Peter Korda, has the best chance of following in Roddick’s footsteps, according to former TV player and analyst John McEnroe.
Also promising is the progression of Chilton, the world No. 39 who fell outside the top 500 a year ago. Before he traveled to the Australian Open earlier this year, the southpaw’s Shelton had never left the United States. Immediately reached the quarterfinals.
The American won the national title in college tennis last year on behalf of the University of Florida, where he was coached by his father, former pro Brian Shelton. Six-foot-tall Ben won the tournament on familiar territory: a track outside his training complex in Orlando. It was in Florida, like many before him, that he began his professional career.
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