‘Beats all of us losing’: 4 US men, 8 women still in French

Sports

A United States fan holds up the American flag as he watches United States’ John Isner play against Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic on day four of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

When the French Open’s third round gets underway Friday, there will be four men from the United States on the schedule — the largest contingent from the country to get that far in Paris in 25 years.

“It beats all of us losing and getting on flights home,” said one member of the quartet, Stevie Johnson, who has won a pair of five-setters this week. “That’s for sure.”

The other American men still in the draw: No. 31 seed John Isner, No. 32 Reilly Opelka and Marcos Giron.

The country has eight women headed to the third round — including Serena Williams and Danielle Collins, who face each other Friday — but given all of the Grand Slam titles accumulated and finals reached by Williams and other female Americans in recent years, that seems less significant, even if it is the most at Roland Garros since nine in 2003.

“It’s good to see,” said Jennifer Brady, the Australian Open runner-up who won Thursday to set up an all-American meeting against 17-year-old Coco Gauff. “There’s a lot of us left on the women’s side. And there’s a lot of us left on the men’s side.”

You have to go back to 1996 to find this many U.S. men in the third round; a half-dozen got there then.

There hasn’t been more than one American man in the fourth round at the clay-court major since 2001, when Andre Agassi and Michael Russell did it.

There could be as many as four this time, but it will not be easy.

Consider the opponents: Opelka, a 23-year-old based in Florida, plays No. 2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia; Isner, a 36-year-old who lives in Dallas, faces No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece; Johnson, a 31-year-old from California, goes up against No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain; and Giron, a 27-year-old from California, takes on No. 22 Cristian Garin of Chile.

“Anytime an American wins,” Opelka said, “it’s a good day, you know?”

In this case, they’re all in the same quarter of the draw, so if they all win Friday, they would pair off Sunday: Isner vs. Johnson, and Opelka vs. Giron.

Their success this week created a data point that’s preferable to the sorts of stats they hear about far too often for their liking:

— No American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open.

— On May 10, there were no American men in the ATP’s Top 30 for the first time in the nearly half-century of computerized tennis rankings.

Blah, blah, blah.

“They love to tell us what we’re not doing,” said Johnson, who won two NCAA titles at USC. “There’s no issue with American tennis.”

Indeed, the Top 30 factoid is a bit arbitrary and misleading.

“It’s a blip,” Isner said. “It definitely made for a good headline and some good comments for people to rip on American men’s tennis. But … we’ll be back in there.”

For one thing, Taylor Fritz — who left the court in a wheelchair because of right knee pain after losing in the French Open’s second round Thursday — dropped from No. 30 to No. 31 that week. (Entering the French Open, he was 33rd, Isner 34th, Opelka 35th).

And for another, Isner has played infrequently since tennis returned from its pandemic hiatus, preferring to remain home with his family — he has two children — instead of heading to the Australian Open and its preceding events early this season, for example.

“I’d like to think if the tour didn’t stop, and I was playing a full schedule, I’d be back in the Top 20,” Isner said, “because that’s really all I’ve known for a long time.”

The 2018 Wimbledon semifinalist truly has been an example of elite consistency: Over the 10 seasons from 2010-19, Isner was one of only three players to win at least 30 matches and finish in the ATP Top 20 each year.

The other two? A couple of guys named Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Rather decent company.

“I grew up watching Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier — all of these greats that were No. 1 in the world and multiple Grand Slam champions — and then after that, great competitors like Andy Roddick and James Blake. It is a little bit sad to see that we don’t have guys in the Top 10,” said Giron, who was the 2014 NCAA singles champion at UCLA and had double-hip surgery two years later. “The group now, we’re all very competitive, and we don’t want to be where we’re ranked. We’re all pushing hard. We have the skill and ability to make moves.”

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