American Tennis Shows It Still Has Fight

US player Sam Querrey celebrates beating Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their men's singles third round match on the sixth day of the 2016 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 2, 2016. Credit: Glyn Kirk / AFP / Getty Images

UPDATED: Sam Querrey lost to Milos Raonic in four sets on Wednesday.

With the giant, history-slaying exception of Serena Williams, these are lean times for American tennis. It has been 13 years since an American man won a grand slam singles title, and there is currently just one American, John Isner, in the top 20. Three American women are in the top 20, but the last one other than Serena to win a major was her sister, Venus, and that was way back in 2008. Over time, the diminished results have naturally yielded diminished expectations. 

In recent years, it has been considered big news if more than one or two Americans survived to the middle weekend of a major. By that lowly measure, this year’s Wimbledon has been a huge success for the U.S. contingent. Six Americans — four women and two men — reached the Round of 16 this year. That was the most since 2004, and a vast improvement on two years ago, when no Americans made it to the fourth round. Serena was joined in the Round of 16 by her sister (and both Williamses have now reached the semifinals), as well as the rising stars Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe. 

The two American men were the veterans Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey. Querrey reached the last 16 by taking out world number one Novak Djokovic in one of the biggest upsets that the men’s game has seen in the last decade and has now reached the quarterfinals, where he will meet the big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic. Querrey, a lanky Californian, has spent much of his career struggling to live up to the expectations that greeted his arrival on the pro tour. He’s now 28, so it’s perhaps a little late to talk about a breakthrough (though that would certainly change if he were to win Wimbledon). 

The real value of his deep run at Wimbledon might be its psychological effect on other American players. Serena exists on a different plane; to see a journeyman like Querrey, whose highest ranking to date was 17th in the world, beat a guy making a serious run at GOAT status is surely a huge inspiration to a generation of American pros accustomed to being roadkill at the majors. And it is surely inspiring, too, for some of the very promising younger Americans coming onto the pro tour now. 

The one who appears to have the biggest upside potential is another lanky Californian, 18-year-old Taylor Fritz. Fritz, who nearly beat Roger Federer at a tune-up event in Stuttgart, landed a tough first-round assignment at Wimbledon: he had to play Federer’s compatriot Stan Wawrinka, the fourth seed. Fritz lost in four sets, an impressive showing against a two-time major winner, and if he gets a friendlier draw at the U.S. Open next month, he might give long-suffering fans even more reason to think that an American tennis revival is at hand.