The current group of young American men is impressive. You would have to go back to 1977 to find two Americans with junior Grand Slam titles. Today, U.S. tennis has three with Taylor Fritz the current U.S. Open Junior Champion; Tommy Paul, the reigning French Open Junior Champion; and Reilly Opelka, the Wimbledon Junior Champion. Francis Tiafoe is the highest-ranked young gun, and together with Stefan Kozlov, Noah Rubin and Jared Donaldon, we could be seeing a renaissance in U.S. men's tennis.
It's still a little early to predict if these great juniors will break out and become professional champions.
Remember Donald Young as a junior? He won his second junior Grand Slam in 2007 at Wimbledon after becoming the youngest Junior Grand Slam Champion at 15 in 2005 at the Australian Open.
He was the best junior in the world when John McEnroe predicted he would become the number one-ranked player in the world. Young made it to 38th in the world which is not bad, but still a letdown.
This top crop of Americans have great skills and competitive fire. They might have been a lock to bring the U.S. back to its glory days of 20 years ago, but today, skill and will are not enough.
Modern tennis at the highest level is dominated by athletes who display incredible fitness, agility, stability, mobility, quickness, speed, power and endurance.
I hope that today's young guns are striving to develop great overall athleticism as a priority. If so, it will be an exciting time in U.S. tennis.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.