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Feature: Young Americans

Young Americans
October 10, 2023

If there's a flipside to the many cities and countries that players visit in their nomadic life on the professional tennis tours, it's the time they spend away from their families and friends at home.  

J.J. Wolf, a 24-year-old American, admits he often gets homesick when travelling outside his home nation. "I don't like leaving the States too much and we have to, a lot," he said. 

But that's been far less an issue for Wolf at the Rolex Shanghai Masters in 2023. Enjoying his best-ever run at an ATP Masters 1000 tournament, the Cincinnati-born Wolf has thrived with the camaraderie created as one of eleven American men who contested the main draw. 

"It feels more like a team," Wolf related after a hard-fought win over Matteo Arnaldi, which followed his upset of No.15 seed Cameron Norrie in the second round. 

"And, you know, just last night, I went and got dinner with Marcus Giron and got to kind of act like we're at home, and we even walked around a little bit in Shanghai. It helps me get myself out."

The synergy between American professionals is far more than simply social. Wolf's success on tour was boosted by guidance he received from members of a slightly older generation of American players. It includes John Isner, Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson. 

"They have so much to say," Wolf said. "And they're always an open book with you. They're not keeping anything back and I think that's really helped me a lot. They really helped me feel like I belong."

Ben Shelton is equally grateful to experience his first full season as a professional player among such a supportive group. 

"It's a really cool time to be an American and play with these guys out here, having such great success," smiled Shelton, one of the 10 American men currently ranked inside the world's top 100. 

At world No.20, he sits fourth in the group behind Taylor Fritz (No.8), Tommy Paul (12) and Frances Tiafoe (No.13). 

"Guys who have broken into the top 20, the top 10 and Taylor Fritz (has been) in the top five - those guys are like big brothers to me. I'm just really excited to see where we go moving forward," Shelton said. 

At age 26, Paul is among the more experienced American contenders and sees multiple benefits of sharing the lessons learned on tour.

"It's fun having him around … he's got that young-kid energy, so it's a lot of fun, especially with the group of older guys that we have now," Paul said. "It's cool to have that young guy come in and really push us. I mean, it's almost bringing us together in a way."

Christopher Eubanks, who has soared to world No.32 in a career-best season, sees the positives across both the ATP and WTA Tours. "It's super exciting to see the success that the women have had for years," the 27-year-old said, referencing Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Coco Gauff, who are all Grand Slam champions or finalists. 

"I think the men, we're doing our best to try to catch up because (the women) have been kind of holding it up … I think American tennis is in the best place that it's been in a long time." 

Early in his headline-grabbing run at the Rolex Shanghai Masters, Sebastian Korda noted how every success among American players helps create further success. "We all push each other be better every single day," the world No.26 Korda said ahead of his third-round upset of No.2 seed Daniil Medvedev in the third round. 

"It seems like almost every single tournament, Americans are in it and there's always someone doing really well. It's great to see - we're all good friends and hopefully we keep going in the same direction."

All the signs point to an even brighter future as the sport rises in prominence throughout the USA. Paul noted that where tennis had recently lagged behind other sports in popularity, it's now firmly in the spotlight.

"I think tennis is growing a ton in the States right now. Hopefully, we can get more kids to pick up tennis in the States and play tennis and watch tennis," Paul added. 

"People in the States, they like winners, so the better that the Americans are doing, the more they want to come out … Moving forward, I think everyone's going to be really excited about it."
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