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THE AMERICAN PACK MAKING MELBOURNE THEIR OWN


From Left: J.J. Wolf, Frances Tiafoe, Seb Korda.

As we enter the 20th year since Andy Roddick hoisted the US Open, are we any closer to finding the United States’ next male Grand Slam champion?


Well, if the early signs at the Australian Open are anything to go by, the answer may lie around the corner.


Of the 32 men left in the competition, eight adorn the Stars and Stripes, with at least two of them guaranteed a spot in the fourth round. What remains to be seen is if any of them have what it takes to go the distance in Melbourne.


At first glance, it seems unlikely, but anything can happen in this sport.


Of the eight, only [17] Frances Tiafoe and [29] Seb Korda are seeded - with the States’ best hope in [8] Taylor Fritz succumbing to the ‘Netflix curse’ and heading home early.


Fritz remains the heir apparent to the American tennis throne despite poor results in his last two majors. The 2022 Indian Wells champion will have his sights set on Wimbledon as his next big opportunity and he has the right game to succeed on the turf.


His gruelling five-set quarter-final loss to Rafael Nadal in 2022 should be all the motivation he needs to come back hungrier.


The United States’ next best face their toughest tests yet in Melbourne, with Tiafoe to take on [18] Karen Khachanov and Korda to lock horns with [7] Daniil Medvedev.


Tiafoe has the talent and athleticism to be one of the top guys on tour but has struggled to find the consistency required to stay up there. His 2022 US Open semi-final run served as a reminder, not only to fans but even to himself that he can be a genuine contender for the majors if he puts it all together. Think Nick Kyrgios.


Korda on the other hand has long been touted as the next big thing to come out of the USA. The son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, 22-year-old Seb already has the makings of a champion and the game to match anyone on tour.


Before their encounter in the final of the Adelaide International 1 earlier this year, Novak Djokovic was full of praise for the young American’s game.


"The cleanest striking technique that you can see on the tour. He's so talented. The way he plays, the way he moves on the court, just beautiful-looking tennis,” Djokovic said.


The appraisal is spot on, and fans have the luxury of watching him battle it out with the likes of Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner and Holger Rune in the years to come.


But what about the remaining six Americans left in the Australian Open?


They might not be household names just yet, but their performances could catapult them into the spotlight.


27-year-old Mackenzie McDonald - ranked No. 65 in the world - has been going about his business this tournament and casually took out reigning champion and 22-time major winner Rafael Nadal in the second round. If he can get through Yoshihito Nishioka, he faces the possibility of an all-American clash with Tiafoe in the fourth round.


For the hypotheticals, the winner of that encounter could potentially face Korda in a quarter-final matchup if things fall into place.


The remaining five enter a logjam in the bottom half of the draw, with two all-American third-round encounters to guarantee two fourth-round spots.


The most intriguing clash comes between world No. 35 Tommy Paul and No. 39 Jenson Brooksby, who has looked right at home on his Melbourne debut.


Brooksby’s unorthodox style of play makes him a tricky opponent, just ask world No. 3 Casper Ruud. The Norwegian didn't have an answer for the 22-year-old on Rod Laver Arena in the second round of the Australian Open.


Paul has been a consistent member of the ATP Top 50 for the past two years and while showing glimpses, hasn’t appeared as a candidate for a major win just yet. A run to the quarters and beyond in Melbourne may just do that.


The final three are by no means household names unless you’re a keen follower of the ATP Challenger Tour.


J.J. Wolf, Ben Shelton and Michael Mmoh are the surprise packets when it comes to this Australian Open.


Wolf is no stranger to a run in the majors, having advanced to the third round of his home Slam twice. He lost both of those matches to Daniil Medvedev and Nick Kyrgios respectively, not the easiest opponents.


Here in Melbourne, he faces Mmoh - an opponent he’s had the better of in their two encounters, giving him a great chance of advancing to a potential matchup with Ben Shelton or Alexei Popyrin in the fourth round.


Shelton looms as a potential star of the future at 20 years old. The youngster knocked the door down on the Challenger Tour in 2022 and finished the year with victories over Casper Ruud and Lorenzo Sonego on the main tour.


Whether any of these men can go all the way in Melbourne remains to be seen but, at the very least, it will set up their seasons for success.


One certain thing, however, is that American men’s tennis is in a stronger position now than it has been for many years.


Throw in the injured Reilly Opelka, 2022 Next Gen champion Brandon Nakashima, Maxime Cressy and the exciting Brandon Holt and you may uncover a champion amongst this impressive American herd.


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