Indian Wells could be the most anticipated tennis event for American men in decades


Only two American men, John Isner and Sam Querrey, were among the top 50 tennis players in the world at the end of 2013. That number jumped to four American men in the top 50 in late 2014, 2015 and 2016.

In 2017, the number rose to five before dropping back to four in 2018. It was evident that this period was not a golden age of American men’s tennis.

But by the end of 2021, six American men were in the top 50. Then, by the end of 2022, the number shot up to nine. Last month, 11 American men entered the top 50 – the highest ranking for the United States since 1995.

This group, led by fifth-placed Southern Californian Taylor Fritz, the defending BNP Paribas Open champion, returns to Indian Wells this year for what may be the most anticipated tournament for American men in decades.

“Most of us, if not all of us, play better when we have people behind us in the stands cheering us on and wanting us to win and getting loud behind us,” said 19th-seat Tommy Paul, who hails from New Jersey. “It helps everyone, so I think we’re all really looking forward to it.”

The men’s first round main round matches begin Wednesday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, with the 2023 BNP Paribas Open championship being played on March 19.

The Americans boast the defending champions at this major American tournament and they will also have nine top 50 players taking part. Sebastian Korda, a Florida native who is ranked 26th, is out injured. Mackenzie McDonald, a California native who fell just below the top 50, will also play in the main draw.

American JJ Wolf trains at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Tuesday.

American JJ Wolf trains at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Tuesday.

MORE: Novak Djokovic is retiring from the Indian Wells tennis event after his waiver request was denied

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With Paul, who reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in January, and 16th-ranked Frances Tiafoe, who grew up in Maryland and advanced to the semifinals at the US Open last September, American men include players who appeared in the last semifinal two grand slams.

“This is a great indication of the future of American men’s tennis,” said former player Michael Russell, who coaches Fritz.

One of the things that makes this group of American men unique is that they are all at different stages in their careers. There’s Fritz, Paul, and Tiafoe, who are in their mid-20s and in their prime, playing the best tennis of their careers. Then there’s Isner in 39th place, who at 37 is still a tough nut to crack at any tournament.

American John Isner trains at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Tuesday.

American John Isner trains at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Tuesday.

Maxime Cressy, 25, and JJ Wolf, 24, move up the rankings. Korda, 22, Georgia native Ben Shelton, 20, along with Californians Brandon Nakashima, 21, and Jenson Brooksby, 22, both appear to be rising stars in football.

“The way tennis is now, it’s more open, there are more people who can beat anyone any day, and there are a lot of really strong American players,” said Fritz, who has since become the first American to finish in the top five Andy Roddick in 2009. “The levels are tight enough that whoever plays better that day wins. There is no one who is really that much better than everyone else.”

When Fritz won Indian Wells last year, it was huge for the Americans, the players said. He was the first American to win the singles title at the BNP Paribas Open since Andre Agassi and Serena Williams did so in 2001.

That gave his contemporaries the confidence to do it, Paul said, at a time when many of them are playing the best tennis of their careers.

American Brandon Nakashima trains at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Tuesday.

American Brandon Nakashima trains at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Tuesday.

“Most of us played well there,” said Paul, “and we felt a lot of support from the crowd last year. It really felt like a home tournament and it was a really, really cool thing for us because it hasn’t always been like that in the past.”

The American men have not won a consecutive title at Indian Wells since 1997, when Michael Chang won to extend a streak of seven straight American men’s titles. It started with Jim Courier’s win in 1991 and during the streak, Courier won two championships at Indian Wells, Pete Sampras won two and Chang won three.

Fritz and Paul are among those who believe the American men have a good chance of starting another series. Paul said it’s a goal for all American men competing this year and he believes at least five or six of them can realistically win it this year.

“Of course we all want this to happen and we will all do everything in our power to make that happen this year,” Paul said. “It will be really interesting to watch. It’s going to be a really fun tournament to play in.”

Andrew John reports on the BNP Paribas Open for The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network. Email him at andrew.john@desertsun.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: BNP Paribas Open: Indian Wells raises high hopes for American men

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