As attentions turn firmly to the USA for the next month of the tennis season, will the next generation of young Americans continue to make headlines?
There are currently 12 Americans ranked inside the top 100 in the world, with seven of them aged 24 or under. Three of them in particular have started to make names for themselves – Sebastian Korda, Brandon Nakashima and Jenson Brooksby.
The trio, who all played at the Citi Open in Washington DC last week, have earned praise - including from Andy Murray - and offered glimpses of their exciting potential. But which of the three will enhance their reputation even further ahead of the US Open later this month? And who looks set for the most success in their career?
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Korda, 21, is the highest-ranked of the trio. From world No 213 last September he has shot up to No 45. His rise has been helped by winning his first ATP 250 title this year, reaching another final, making the Miami Open quarter-finals and getting to the last 16 at Wimbledon, where he was narrowly beaten by Olympic silver medallist Karen Khachanov.
Korda, the son of former world No 2 Petr Korda and former world No 26 Regina Rajchrtova, as well as brother to professional golfers Jessica and Nelly, has all the shots. He strikes the ball cleanly on both sides, has a good serve and moves well. Standing at 1.96m tall, he was described by Rafael Nadal as a “complete player” at the Citi Open.
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“[His game has a] good physical look, good serve, good shots from the baseline…He has a lot of things to do in the next years in our sport.
“I think I always believed since I saw him play that he is going to have the chance to be one of the best players of the world. Let's see. It’s always the same. I think he has all the things that he needs to definitely be a top guy. Of course, things are not easy and you need to keep improving.”
Korda is 22-11 for the season with victories over Roberto Bautista Agut, Diego Schwartzman, Aslan Karatsev, John Isner and Alex De Minaur. He was due to play the National Bank Open in Toronto this week but has withdrawn from the tournament.
The rise of Brooksby has been even more rapid than Korda.
Eight months ago he was outside the top 300, now he’s cracked the top 100 after making the Newport final and Citi Open semi-finals. He didn’t drop a set on his way to the last four in Washington DC, beating second seed Felix Auger Aliassime, Kevin Anderson, Frances Tiafoe and John Millman, before going down to eventual champion Jannik Sinner. He also earned a fan along the way in Andy Murray.
The three-time Grand Slam champion tweeted: “Brooksby is the sort of player I love to watch…lots of variety..high tennis IQ….great in defence.”
Described as “super unorthodox” by fellow countryman Tiafoe, Brooksby has a two-handed backhand slice and enjoys putting opponents into awkward positions on the court with sharp angles and short balls.
“He makes you play an extra ball, has great anticipation of the ball,” added Tiafoe. “He is really solid, makes you play a lot.”
It might not sound like the most appealing style of play, but Brooksby relishes it.
“I really do. I'm sure a lot of people may think of it as, ‘Oh, someone had a bad day or something’. But in my mind, that's the result of my game doing the right things, exposing their weaknesses.”
Brooksby, 20, has won three times on the ATP Challenger Tour this season and is set to join Korda at the National Bank Open in Toronto. He is clearly confident – “I really believe this is my level, and it's not too surprising for me,” he said about breaking the top 100 – and is hungry for more success.
“Obviously I'm happy that I have been able to do it consistently most weeks, and that's [because] that my mental toughness has improved more than anything. I'm just excited to keep playing and keep learning.”
At the age of 19, Nakashima is the youngest of the 12 Americans ranked inside the top 100.
He has enjoyed a superb summer so far, making the finals in Los Cabos and Atlanta in back-to-back weeks. He also reached the last 16 in Washington DC after beating sixth seed Dan Evans in straight sets.
Nakashima boasts a strong double-handed backhand and has a solid all-round game that could take him far. Like Brooksby, he credits improvements in his “mental game” as one of the reasons for his success in 2021.
“It hasn’t been easy, especially after having that slow clay-court swing, not winning too many matches in Europe, and then having to come over to the hard courts and try to gain some momentum and show that I belong with these guys and that I can play on the ATP Tour.
“That has been the biggest thing for me, especially for my confidence. And then also the minor things, like the technique and my footwork on the court I think has definitely improved from last year.”
Evans said that he believes Nakashima has a “very big future” after losing to him 7-6 6-0 at the Citi Open.
“He seems very calm and level headed… He put me away pretty convincingly in the end.”
Our view – Korda looks the cream of the crop
If Nadal says that Korda is going to be “one of the best players of the world” then it’s hard to argue. On the evidence so far he certainly looks to have the best prospects of the current crop of young Americans. He has a big game, good support around him – as well as his family he has spent time coaching with Andre Agassi – and has already proved that he can mix it with the best on the tour.
Brooksby and Nakashima definitely both have potential to climb further in the rankings, but may need to add more weapons and attributes to their games if they are going to make it to the top.
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