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Wherever you look across the current tennis scene, the stars and stripes of the American flag are blazoned on your screens.

Whether it’s United Cup glory, successful Australian Open qualifying campaigns or immediate 2023 silverware, the strength and depth in American tennis is as good as it gets.

With the ‘Happy Slam’ poised to burst into life at Melbourne Park, American fans could be smiling all fortnight, with plenty of players in with a shout of a major moment.

Scanning the singles rankings, you’ll notice nine men with ‘USA’ next to their name and eight American women inside the top 50.

From this star-studded bunch, eight are seeded in the Australian Open.

The rankings are just one part of the success sustained by American players at the top of the sport. And in 2023, four of those players truly stood out.

Jessica Pegula personifies consistency and was rewarded with a career-high No.3 ranking. Three Grand Slam quarterfinals – in all three she was halted by eventual champions Ash Barty and Iga Swiatek – and a maiden W1000 title in Guadalajara paint the picture.

Pegula partnered Coco Gauff all the way to the doubles final at Roland Garros, and both concluded their memorable 2023 campaigns by qualifying for the WTA Finals in both disciplines – a rare and mightily impressive feat.

Gauff, somehow still only 18 years old, excelled last season to crack also the top 10, and did not drop a set en route to the Roland Garros singles final. Only an inspired Swiatek had all the answers that Parisian Saturday.

On the men’s side, Taylor Fritz erased his previous 0-7 record in Grand Slam third rounds to enjoy second week journeys at Australian Open and Wimbledon.

His finest moment came at his “home tournament” of Indian Wells, where he snapped Rafael Nadal’s 20-match winning streak for a Masters 1000 milestone triumph.

Countryman Frances Tiafoe climbed into the Top 20 having toppled Nadal at the US Open, posting an 8-0 tie-break record during a pulsating run to the last four in New York.

His five-set semifinal seesaw with Carlos Alcaraz was up there among the matches of the year.

Then you have the big-hitting experience of Madison Keys (Australian Open 2022 semifinalist), Danielle Collins (AO 2022 runner-up), Sloane Stephens and Amanda Anisimova – all players who signal danger in any draw – plus the emergence of Sebastian Korda, Next Gen ATP Finals champion Brandon Nakashima and new top-100 player Ben Shelton.

The production line seems endless, and you get a better idea of just how deep the American strength runs in the game.

The current US contingent have always battled in the shadow of all-time greats like Serena Williams and the ‘Big Three’.

Now seems their time to flip the script, and further elevate the narrative for American tennis.

Signs are already strong in 2023 that this might just happen.

Korda held championship point over Novak Djokovic in a memorable Adelaide final. In Auckland, Gauff swept to the trophy, without dropping a set. And the United Cup perfectly portrayed the all-star nature of Team America.

The inaugural 18-country mixed event was dominated by the Americans, who surrendered just two singles matches and swatted aside nations in ties no closer than 4-1 on the scoreboard.

With team bonds galvanised by several escape room visits, Fritz and Pegula – who dismissed world No.1 Swiatek 6-2 6-2 – led the title charge, with Keys and Tiafoe shining as high-calibre No.2 choices.

The champagne flowed, and the feel-good factor was evident across the squad.

“Having the women playing with us just makes the team a lot stronger from the guys’ side. We’ve struggled a bit, I’d say,” Fritz said. “From our side it’s been great to get the extra help. This team, we did a lot of stuff off the court, bonded. It was great.”

Added Tiafoe: “You will see a lot of Pegula-Tiafoe practices from this point. She’s definitely risen my level to a whole other level. She’s unbelievable.”

The team camaraderie has given this high-flying squad an extra boost ahead of action at Melbourne Park, another place Americans – particularly the women – have thrived in recent years.

Sofia Kenin became Australian Open champion in 2020. Collins and Jennifer Brady have reached the past two finals in the last two editions.

DRAW: AO 2023 women’s singles

On the men’s side, fans have been awaiting a similar run to when Andre Agassi lifted the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup back in 2003.

“To see these guys next to me on this road doing their thing, it really inspires me, seeing how they go about their business each and every day. Doing something at the highest level,” Tiafoe said.

“I’m playing some of the best tennis of my life right now, I’m just really enjoying myself.”

For Pegula, a frequent pick amongst pundits for the title, it’s about a clean slate.

“I don’t think I really am putting pressure on myself to duplicate that year because I think it was very special,” the No.3 seed said.

“I feel like I have different goals this year, am resetting this year. Everything is different and there’s always new challenges and I think that’s what tennis and sports in general is always going to bring.”

Broadcast commentators Mary Joe Fernandez and Patrick McEnroe – former elite-level American pros themselves – emphasise Team USA’s credentials.

“It’s been really exciting to watch them improve, get into the Top 10, and now really go into these Grand Slams with a shot,” Fernandez said on ESPN’s preview show.

“That’s where we were falling behind is we were getting a lot of numbers, but nobody was breaking through. Nobody was getting into the Top 10 challenging.

“I’m really impressed with her (Pegula’s) improvement, her determination. She’s definitely one to look out for at the Australian Open… I think it’s a matter of time before she (Gauff) breaks through at a major.”

McEnroe flags Fritz and Tiafoe as outside title contenders at Melbourne Park, as well as praising a towering compatriot.

“I think they’re both ripe to make some noise. So is Korda, who’s going to be seeded now for the first time in a major, having gotten to the final and testing Djokovic,” McEnroe told ESPN.

“I think he may have the most upside of any of the Americans. I’m not sure he’s ready to make a big, big move in a major yet, but I really like the way he’s developing right now.”

The joy, the options, the rich quality; Team USA are a force to be reckoned with at AO 2023.

Source: Alex Sharp

www.sports24ghana.com

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