NEW YORK-- It’s already been a marvelous summer for Americans, as doubles partners Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula won the three biggest Hologic WTA Tour titles coming into this US Open.
Pegula, at No.3, is the highest-ranked from the United States but says she’s feeling a bigger, broader buzz.
“It’s not just me,” Pegula said last week. “I feel like there’s been a lot of hype around American tennis, just a lot of people.”
She’s not kidding.
While Pegula and Gauff are the only ones living in the current Top 10, there are a total of 13 Americans in the Top 100 -- ahead of Russia (12) and the Czech Republic (9). And, for what it’s worth, there are four more Americans ranked between 100-110.
Five of the eight wildcards, as you might expect of the home Slam, went to Americans, running the main-draw total to 24. Eleven have already advanced to the second round.
The majority are seasoned players, but some of the fixtures like Madison Keys, Danielle Collins and Jennifer Brady have been joined by younger athletes, led by the 19-year-old Gauff. No.42 Alycia Parks and No.57 Emma Navarro are both 22, while No.59 Peyton Stearns and No.74 Caty McNally are 21. Ashlyn Krueger, at No.124, is 19. At 17, Clervie Ngounoue is the No.2 junior and qualified to make her Grand Slam main draw debut this week.
The bench is long and it is deep.
“There’s obviously a lot of really great players who are in that next tier and starting to really make their push and do well,” Keys said after defeating Arantxa Rus in straight sets. “They’re all a great group of people and it’s always nice to see other Americans doing well.”
And there are just as many paths to the higher reaches of elite tennis as there are players treading them. Keys, for instance, has been home-schooled since the age of 10 and traveling the world for global events; she’s been a professional for 14 years, half her life.
Stearns, on the other hand, went the college route. She led the University of Texas to consecutive NCAA titles and became the school’s first player to win an NCAA singles championship. She was a 6-3, 6-4 winner Tuesday over Viktoriya Tomova, notching her 40th professional win of the year.
Parks bypassed her scholarship offers and went straight to the tour. This year, she notched her first Hologic WTA Tour title in Lyon and picked up a WTA 1000 doubles title just last week in Cincinnati.
There’s a term in business -- dynamic tension -- when competing entities in the same field lift their level of execution in an attempt to outdo each other. According to Stearns, that’s what’s happening here.
“I feel like when one person does well, others tend to follow along,” said Stearns, who reached her first WTA Tour-level final in Bogota back in April. “So you see these Americans doing well … Coco and Jess just won the titles in the last three tournaments. It’s pretty inspiring for the other Americans and I think it makes the players [think], `Step it up.’ Especially playing under the same flag.
“So I think it’s always great when your country is winning because it means other players are going to win as well.”
Pegula agreed, saying the phenomenon can be seen in how the top American men - Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul - are driving each other to be better. Pegula sees it in her case as well, having gone up the rankings lock-step with Gauff, even if they are a decade apart in age.
"This summer, she won D.C. and played a great match [to beat me]," Pegula said. "Then I beat her [in Montreal], and I felt like that gave me confidence to win the tournament. I think seeing me win the tournament gave her confidence to win Cincy.
"I even remember when I was hurt, watching all the American girls do well, I'm, like, Oh, I beat them in practice. I could be doing the same thing."
Although Pegula is ranked ahead of Gauff, it’s the teenager who is playing night matches on Arthur Ashe and stoking hopes that an American will win the American major. It speaks to the vibe amongst the American crew that Pegula, their de facto leader, has not a whiff of jealousy or envy.
“Maybe it’s good,” Pegula said after advancing with a straight-sets win over Camila Giorgi. “Coco can take it, that pressure, not me. She’s been playing really well. She’s super electric to watch.
“It’s nice that even though I am the top American, I can’t imagine carrying a ton of pressure if it was only me. It’s kind of nice too, not feeling like I have to be the one that has to win the US Open when there's six other girls that could do it.”