Young Players with the Best Chance to Restore Hope for American Men's Tennis

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2015

Young Players with the Best Chance to Restore Hope for American Men's Tennis

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    Americans Noah Rubin and Stefan Kozlov pose during the trophy ceremony at the 2014 Wimbledon juniors championship match.
    Americans Noah Rubin and Stefan Kozlov pose during the trophy ceremony at the 2014 Wimbledon juniors championship match.Jan Kruger/Getty Images

    The past, present and future of American men's tennis is on display at the Memphis Open this week. 

    Michael Chang, who arrived in Memphis as coach of Japan's No. 1 player, Kei Nishikori, represents the glorious past. John Isner, the U.S. No. 1, is seeded second at the tournament. Sam Querrey and Donald Young are also competing.

    Isner, Querrey and Young are playing testaments to this country's present mediocrity in men's tennis. 

    Teens Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov, who were both given wild cards, are considered the future of American men's tennis.

    Talking about the future of American men's tennis is always more pleasant than thinking about the present. Because the future offers hope.

    The present is so depressing. Isner, Young and Querrey, all enjoying successful and respectable careers, have little chance of returning American men's tennis to the dominance of decades past.

    Andy Roddick, retired since 2012, was the last American man to win a Grand Slam. That was in 2003. 

    Mardy Fish reached No. 7 in 2011. Then a series of health issues forced him out of the game. That same year Querrey maxed out at No. 17 before personal problems disrupted his career. Young, ranked No. 67, hangs around and flashes just enough brilliance to puzzle those who once considered him America's future.

    Steve Johnson has climbed as high as No. 37. Currently at No. 42, he does just enough to keep us interested but not enough to restore any hope. 

    Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock, part of the post-Isner wave, have stalled. Dennis Kudla, who has a solid game, seems too slight physically to ever crack the top 50, let alone win a Slam. 

    So it's time to turn to the youngsters—the players just starting to show up on the ATP radar. These are players who have done enough as juniors to spark a glimmer of hope in the hearts of promise-weary Americans. 

    None of these guys are wowing crowds like Australia's Nick Kyrgios. There are no golden boys like Grigor Dimitrov or mammoths like Milos Raonic. This lot is merely a handful of hopefuls with the best chance to restore pride in American men's tennis.

Jared Donaldson

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    Jared Donaldson during qualifying rounds at 2015 Australian Open.
    Jared Donaldson during qualifying rounds at 2015 Australian Open.Robert Prezioso/Getty Images

    Jared Donaldson is a skinny 18-year-old from Rhode Island who counts the running crosscourt forehand as his favorite shot. 

    Querrey, who defeated Donaldson in straight sets in Memphis, told Tennis.com that he was impressed with youngster. “He hits a big ball. Big serve, big forehand, and doesn’t seem too intimidated to go for his shots. In the long run, that usually pays off. He’ll be going deep in these tournaments very soon.” 

    Donaldson decided to turn pro in September 2014. Listed at 6'2", 155 pounds, he better beef up if he wants to become a serious threat.

Mackenzie McDonald

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    Mackenzie McDonald hits a forehand during a juniors match at the 2013 U.S. Open.
    Mackenzie McDonald hits a forehand during a juniors match at the 2013 U.S. Open.Dan Istitene/Getty Images

    Mackenzie McDonald plays for the UCLA Bruins. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association considered him the No. 1 player entering the 2013 college season.

    The sophomore from Piedmont, California, surprised many in 2013 when he qualified for the main draw in Cincinnati. Then only 18, McDonald defeated fellow American Steve Johnson and Nicolas Mahut. 

    However, since then he's done most of his winning for the Bruins.

Francis Tiafoe

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    Francis Tiafoe hits a backhand at the 2014 U.S. Open.
    Francis Tiafoe hits a backhand at the 2014 U.S. Open.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Francis Tiafoe shows promise because not only is he just 17, but he appears to be growing into a bigger, stronger player. Unlike McDonald and Donaldson, Tiafoe is ripped.

    Being physically fit is key in this era when the top players, such as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Nishikori, are also the best athletes. 

    At 6'0", 170 pounds, he already has a more solid build than the other young Americans. His frame is comparable to Djokovic (6'2", 176 lbs) and Nadal (6'1", 188 lbs). It's hard to imagine someone as slight as McDonald, listed at 5'10" and 145 pounds, being able to hang with the super athletes on tour. 

    Tiafoe is still in high school and has played just one ATP match, a first-round loss at the 2014 Citi Open. Only 16 at the time, Tiafoe lost to Russia's Evgeny Donskoy, 6-4, 6-4.

Stefan Kozlov

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    Stefan Kozlov hits a backhand during the 2014 U.S. Open qualifying round.
    Stefan Kozlov hits a backhand during the 2014 U.S. Open qualifying round.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Like Taifoe, Stefan Kozlov, 17, has the physical build more in line with the better athletes. The Macedonian-born teen reached the quarterfinals in the 2013 Wimbledon juniors tournament. In 2012 he was the youngest player (15) in the juniors' top 20. 

    Unlike Taifoe, Kozlov made the list of a tongue-and-cheek article written by BuzzFeed staffer Kevin Lincoln titled "Meet the Eight Talented American Tennis Players Who Will Inevitably Disappoint You."

    It's too early to tell, but given his success in juniors and his still-growing body, Kozlov may prove to be the least disappointing of all.

Noah Rubin

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    Noah Rubin at the 2014 U.S. Open.
    Noah Rubin at the 2014 U.S. Open.Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Noah Rubin is a little guy at 5'9", 145 pounds; he's sort of a David Ferrer without the mind-boggling defensive skills. Rubin plays for Wake Forest and gets plenty of buzz because he comes out of John McEnroe's tennis academy. 

    Last year Rubin came through qualifiers to win the Wimbledon juniors title. He defeated Kozlov, who was seeded No. 6. However, Rubin, 18, is two years older and nearly four inches shorter than Kozlov. 

    He has mad skills and could be a late bloomer.

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