What a difference a year makes.
In 2019, Taylor Fritz was the only American man to reach the second round at Roland Garros. This year, eight Americans won their opening match, the most at this tournament since 1996, when nine did it.
“It’s really cool having all the Americans get through. It’s exciting,” said Mackenzie McDonald, who plays 12-time champion Rafael Nadal on Wednesday. “I’m super-pumped for all those guys and even having all the qualifiers, too. I think all the Americans are playing really well. I think it’s an exciting time for all of the Americans.”
Jim Courier, a two-time Roland Garros champion, was one of the nine men from his country who reached the second round 24 years ago. Six Americans advanced to the third round that year. The former World No. 1 is happy to see so many of his countrymen advance through their openers this year.
“It’s wonderful to see the fellas achieving on the clay. There are so many different stories, from comebacks from injury like Jack Sock and Mackie McDonald, to new faces like Sebi Korda,” Courier said. “It’s very encouraging to see a broad range of success for the Americans. It’s great to see some belief that we can win on the dirt.”
The Americans still remaining are 27th seed Fritz, McDonald, 21st seed John Isner (who plays #NextGenATP countryman Sebastian Korda), Marcos Giron, Tommy Paul, Tennys Sandgren and Jack Sock. Two Americans, Sam Querrey and Frances Tiafoe, lost five-setters against seeded opponents.
“We have a lot of really good tennis players. Any one of us can get hot and beat almost anybody on any given day. I think we’ve proven that,” Sandgren said. “A lot of these Americans guys, including myself, have proven that. It’s just about, ‘Okay, can you make that your consistent form and can you do that over the course of a full week or two full weeks at a tournament like this and not just have a good day or a good three days?’
“I’d love to see some more of us just push through and have a good two weeks at a Slam, maybe push into the end of the second week. I think there are eight to 10 American guys that can do that at any given Slam, so it’d be really good to see multiple quarter-finalists, guys competing against each other. I think it’s feasible.”
Sandgren is a two-time major quarter-finalist and Isner reached the 2018 Wimbledon semi-finals. No American man has made the Roland Garros quarter-finals since 2003, when Andre Agassi did it.
What might help this year are the conditions in Paris. If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, this tournament would have been held beginning in May. It has been rainy, with the temperature hovering around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I think it almost helps me in the sense that the really good movers can’t really slide around like they normally can because the clay is really damp,” Isner said after defeating Elliot Benchetrit in the first round. “It kind of played like a slow hard court, I thought. There wasn’t much sliding. I’m not the best slider. It’s tough conditions. I really don’t mind it.”
According to Courier, “conditions are definitely heavier, slower and muddier than we are used to experiencing in Paris and that requires lots of adjustments. The biggest adjustment is accepting the conditions and making the most of them.”
Another intricacy of this event is that the US Open final was less than three weeks ago. Players didn’t have much time to adjust to the clay, especially in the heavy conditions. Courier believes there is one key to make that quick switch.
“Movement,” Courier said. “It’s always movement that is the first challenge transitioning from hard courts to clay courts.”
The 23-time tour-level titlist believes there is no secret to making the second week of a Grand Slam.
“Have talent, hone your skills to the best of your ability and be ready to compete point-in and point-out,” Courier said. “If you’re good enough you’ll get there eventually, but you can’t fake it in a major.”