US Men USO R16 Split

It was 3:45 a.m. The scientists at the Great American Men’s Tennis Laboratory had been up for 71 straight hours. Operating from an underground research and development center discreetly located beneath a set of courts in Florida and California, their mission had been this simple: from the current group of promising American men, build a perfect player.

At last, the project was completed.

We bring you now, the 2023 edition of The Great American Men’s Tennis Player.


Taylor Fritz is the standout choice for an ideal right-handed serve.

Taylor Fritz is the standout choice for an ideal right-handed serve.

Serve (Right-Handed): Taylor Fritz

The serve has long been the catalyst for American champions: Bill Tilden, Ellsworth Vines, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzales, Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick. Fritz is the current great. Taught by his father, a former pro, young Taylor studied, practiced and has mastered a delivery that is simple, smooth, reliable, and powerful. Any time Fritz serves, count on him to hit his share of aces and consistently start the point in an advantageous position.


Serve (Left-Handed): Ben Shelton

Shelton, too, was taught by a father who’d been a pro; in his case, one-time world No. 55 Bryan Shelton. Though still very much in the formative stages of his career, already Shelton has shown an appetite for expressive, assertive tennis. That’s quite vivid with the Shelton serve, a lively lefty delivery that can carve, kick and crack its way in all sorts of spots and directions. The most recent first-rate American lefty server was doubles genius Bob Bryan, who only retired in 2020. But when it comes to singles prowess, you’d have to go back to the days of McEnroe and Roscoe Tanner in the ‘70s and ‘80s to find an American lefthander with as good a serve as Shelton’s.


Tommy Paul is a favorite at this year's US Open.

Tommy Paul is a favorite at this year's US Open. 

Return: Tommy Paul

Here too, America has had its share of riches: Hall of Famers Budge, Dick Savitt, Tony Trabert, Jimmy Connors, and Andre Agassi were all able to turn the tables on the server with powerful drives. The current American leader in this department is Paul, based on an ability to generate power and depth off both sides, forcefully counter kick serves to the backhand, and use his return to rapidly take control rallies.


Forehand: Tommy Paul, Chris Eubanks

Back in the early ‘80s, American Jimmy Arias pioneered the modern forehand, a full-bodied drive that took the concept of racquet-head speed to unprecedented levels. Ivan Lendl, Agassi and Jim Courier further advanced what Arias had begun. Additional excellent American forehands came later in the form of Roddick and James Blake, followed by Sam Querrey and John Isner.

Many active Americans have great forehands. But to win big these days, what’s needed is yet more aggression and a certain X factor of freedom that can instantly snap open a rally, akin to the way Carlos Alcaraz has won so many points. Call it disruption at the highest level.

Here again, America’s best is Paul, owner of a whip-like stroke that figures to get even more imposing in the years to come. Honorable mention goes to Eubanks, who over the course of his run to this year’s Wimbledon quarterfinals demonstrated significant understanding of the need to swing aggressively as often as possible.


Backhand: Taylor Fritz, Brandon Nakashima

It’s likely just a coincidence, but in recent years, the San Diego area has been the development spot for two great American backhands. The best belongs to Fritz, owner of a two-hander that he can hit very hard and deep, no matter if he’s dictating the tempo of a rally or being forced to react to an opponent’s great shot. Added to that is Fritz’s sheer belief in himself, improved movement skills, and an ability to fight his way through one long point after another.

The runner-up in this department is Nakashima, whose backhand is quite similar to Novak Djokovic’s. Delivered with a crisp unit turn and a concise, smooth swing, Nakashima’s backhand is efficient and sustainable.


Volley: Frances Tiafoe, Sebastian Korda

Tiafoe seems to improve in this part of the court by the month. His upgrades in fitness have only helped make him that much more of a balanced, smooth and proficient volleyer, be it with angles or power. He’s also become increasingly aware of how to mix in everything from serve-and-volley, opportunistic mid-rally forward movement, and coming in on returns.

Honorable Mention: Korda showed plenty of sharp volley technique on his way to the Australian Open quarterfinals earlier this year.

Movement: Frances Tiafoe

Tiafoe’s ability to track down balls is exceptional. Over the course of just about any tournament he plays, Tiafoe will hit at least one electrifying shot while on the run. That kind of court coverage applies exceptional pressure to his opponents, in many cases compelling them to overhit.


Touch: Frances Tiafoe

Here too, Tiafoe is the leader. It’s not simply that he can execute with feathery feel. In a way that arguably can’t be taught, Tiafoe often sees his racquet as a paintbrush and thoroughly enjoys the chance to deploy subtle variations in spin and speed.

Versatility: Tommy Paul

Paul has been told by his coach, Brad Stine, to envision himself as an artist akin to Pablo Picasso, playing a game of various shapes and textures. On his best days – such as his two wins over Alcaraz – Paul does that magnificently.