It’s been almost 20 years since an American male tennis player has won a Grand Slam title— Andy Roddick, who has already been retired for a decade, was the last do it, at the 2003 US Open. But that drought might soon come to an end.
And Friday at the French Open, the future of the game will be on display.
That’s when Carlos Alcaraz will face American Sebastian Korda (2:45 pm ET) in the third round at Roland Garros. They are 19 and 21 years old, respectively.
In just about every way, Alcaraz is already a superstar and seemingly on his way to be at least a generational if not all-time talent. The Spaniard with the lightning fast feet, thunderous ground strokes and equally electric and magnetic personality has won four titles this year. That includes earlier this month in Madrid, where the day after his 19th birthday he beat the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, in the quarterfinals. For an encore, he beat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic the next day in a three-and-a-half hour thriller to become the first player to defeat the two legends back-to-back on the dirt. He also won the Miami Open in April — beating world No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets along the way — to become that tournament’s youngest champion.
“He got all the ingredients: the passion, humbleness, talent and the physical,” Nadal said of Alcaraz in March. “Reminds me a lot of what I was with his age.”
That’s lofty company. It’s also not just hyperbole about his countryman, who last fall reached the quarterfinals of the US Open, is 28-3 this year and has rocketed to No. 6 in the world.
“He [Alcaraz] is not a normal guy, like Novak was not a normal guy, like Roger [Federer] was not a normal guy, probably me was not a normal guy or Alex [Zverev] or these kinds of guys that have the level at a very young age so they make the transition to the very highest level very quick,” Nadal said this month. “That’s what he did and he’s already there, like one of the big favorites to achieve every single tournament that he’s playing.”
Then there’s Korda.
Over the last 20 years there have been a lot of “nexts” in US men’s tennis who have come and gone, or, more accurately, never really were, with John Isner (in 2017) and Sam Querrey (2018) the only Americans to Reach the semifinals of a major since Roddick reached the final four at Wimbledon in 2009. The reasons for the dearth of top-shelf US talent in the men’s game are myriad and complex, tracing back to the junior level. Of course, The Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have also dominated the sport during that time.
Korda, though, knows something about what it takes to be one of the best players in the world. His father, Petr, won 10 career titles, including the 1998 Australian Open, and climbed as high as No. 2 in the world. Sebi’s older sisters, Jess and Nelly, have won six and seven golf tournaments, respectively, on the LPGA Tour, with Nelly counting a major among her victories as well as an Olympic gold medal and reaching No. 1 in the world also among her achievements.
But golf was too boring for Sebi, so he played hockey as a young boy. That is until at age 9 when he returned to the family’s South Florida home following a trip with his father to the 2009 US Open, where they watched Radek Stepanek take on Djokovic, and told his parents that he didn’t want to play hockey anymore and instead wanted to play tennis.
At 6-foot-5 and with easy power, a refined all-around game and good quickness, Korda is in many ways the epitome of the modern player. Though he’s more apt to trying to end a point early rather than slugging it out from the baseline, his fairly compact swing, crisp strokes and steady demeanor bode well for a big future.
The results are starting to trend that direction, too. In Korda’s last seven majors, he has reached at least the third round on four occasions.
“He’s got the game, the belief, the composure—he’s got it all, actually,” John McEnroe said after Korda’s Wimbledon debuted last July. Korda went on to reach the fourth round. “Things can only get better.”
McEnroe, the voice of US tennis, isn’t the only one singing Korda’s praises.
“[His game has a] good physical look, good serve, good shots from the baseline,” Nadal said at the Citi Open last August in Washington, DC. “I think he’s a great guy, [a] complete player. He has a lot of things to do in the next years in our sport.”
He’s on his way.
Korda has since climbed to No. 30 in the world and last month beat Alcaraz in the third round in Monte Carlo, avenging a loss to him last year. In the three-hour, three-set, two-tiebreak epic, he rallied from a break down in the final set in windy conditions to close out Alcaraz, 6-3.
Now comes Round 3 of what should be many between the two young stars.
With the 40-year-old Federer’s career nearing an end by his own admission and Nadal’s 35-year-old battered body only able to stay stitched together for so long, that will soon leave just 35-year-old Djokovic among the Big Three . It also leaves the door open for Alcaraz and Korda in what has the makings of what should be a longstanding rivalry for years to come.
And when it comes to ending the Americans’ drought in majors, that’s as good a place as any to start.