OPINION: The chances of home success at the US Open are the highest they've been in years

OPINION: The chances of home success at the US Open are the highest they've been in years
Gauff and Pegula are in fine form
Gauff and Pegula are in fine form
The days of US players dominating the US Open are long gone but the chances of Americans enjoying home success in New York are the highest they've been in years heading into the next edition of the year's final Grand Slam tournament.

It was exactly 20 years ago this September that Andy Roddick won the tournament, and he was the seventh American man in 11 years to do so, with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi enjoying just under a decade of dominance before that.

Things were going equally as well for those playing on home turf on the women's side with five titles in a row from 1998 to 2002 courtesy of Lindsay Davenport and the Williams sisters. Three of those finals were all-American affairs, too.

If you told someone back then that, in the two decades to come, US players would go on to win only five out of 19 women's titles and not win the men's title once, they'd have laughed you out of Arthur Ashe Stadium, but that's exactly what's happened. 

The country hasn't produced a male player able to even reach the final since Roddick last did so in 2006, while American women are now going through something of a drought at Flushing Meadows, too, with their last title coming back in 2017 through Sloane Stephens (30). 

However, while local fans haven't had too much to cheer about for a good while at the US Open, there are reasons for them to be optimistic about that changing this year and the biggest of those reasons is Coco Gauff (19).

When she lit up the sport with her run to the fourth round of Wimbledon at the age of 15, Gauff looked all but certain to one day become a Grand Slam champion, and following four years of steady if somewhat slow progress, she now seems ready to do so.

She achieved a career-high ranking of fourth and reached her first Grand Slam final last year. Then, after a relatively disappointing first half of 2023, began to make big steps forward again this summer, winning her first WTA 500 title at the Washington Open and then immediately going one better by winning her first WTA 1000 title in Cincinnati.

Gauff is on the rise

What was most impressive about those triumphs was the nature of them. In Washington, she didn't drop a single set, and in Cincinnati, she finally beat world number one Iga Swiatek (22), who had won the pair's first seven matches, on her way to the final.

Such a victory felt like a watershed moment in the young American's career - a sign that she's no longer just someone with the potential to one day be one of the world's best but that she already is one of the world's best.

She's playing better than ever, well enough to beat anyone and she's not the only reason for American optimism, either, because the only player to beat her this month is a compatriot. 

Jessica Pegula (29) was the one to end Gauff's title hopes in Montreal, and the world number three went on to win that tournament herself, getting the better of Swiatek just as her doubles partner did.

That was the highlight of what has been a strong year, with Pegula also reaching semi-finals in Miami and Qatar, and being one of the last eight at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

While she lacks consistency, often following up impressive wins with disappointing defeats, she can cause real problems for anyone on her day as she showed with her recent wins over her fellow American, Swiatek and Elina Svitolina.

Pegula is a serious contender

Getting such wins on the biggest stages has always been a barrier for her, with the American number one never advancing beyond the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam but it's a barrier she's confident that she can cross.

"Sometimes I say to myself: 'Okay, do I need something more? What can I do?' But then I think: I’ve beaten a lot of these girls at least once," she told Vogue.

"I’m right there. I’m right where I need to be, so it’s really just about finding a bit more belief in those moments. 

"I don’t want to be that person overthinking and changing things. It’s not how I am. I’ve seen players try and change their game to get there and it takes them out of what they’re actually really good at.

"They kind of lose confidence when that happens. I don’t think I’ll ever be like that.”

In their hugely successful doubles career, Gauff and Pegula have contested a Grand Slam final on the same side of the net, and with the form they're in, the two doing so on opposite sides feels like a bigger possibility than ever. 

There's undoubtedly less hope of an American Dream on the men's side of the draw but the picture is far less bleak than it has been more often than not for the last 20 years. 

America's number one

The country has two players in the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time since 2012 - Taylor Fritz (25) and Frances Tiafoe (25). This is an achievement that is made all the more impressive by the fact that both still have time on their side.

Tiafoe reached the semi-finals of the US Open last year and is a better player now than he was then. While Fritz has never been able to produce his best tennis at Grand Slams, it feels inevitable that he'll get to that point eventually given how well he performs at smaller tournaments.

With Tommy Paul (26), Chris Eubanks (27), Sebastian Korda (23) and Ben Shelton (20) also all playing the best tennis of their careers this season and the latter three being seeded, the chances of an American winner may be unlikely given the strength of Carlos Alcaraz (20) and Novak Djokovic (36), but the chances are high of at least one making it deep into the second week.

For the first time in years, we can expect to see an array of star-spangled banners being waved in the crowd from the start of the tournament to the very end.


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