He kept tugging at his tennis shirt, up and down, showing his toned stomach, Tommy Paul had never been so nervous in the past ten days. “I’m pumped,” he said to John Fitzgerald, the former Australian pro who won seven Grand Slam doubles titles, and it showed how charged Paul was now.
Paul had already held a few press conferences, they were nice, a 3 plus, but now he was laughing, he was really chattering, a smooth 1, and when Fitzgerald was actually about to call it a day, Paul pointed to the stands. His mother is up there, “she drove straight from work to the airport yesterday,” he said, and she arrived on Wednesday morning. Just in time to see her son win. Paul also referred to his girlfriend that it was her birthday this Thursday, she has 400,000 followers on Instagram, that’s how it is in this generation. Paul savored the moment, that was of course understandable.
Paul, who is outwardly reminiscent of the young Clint Eastwood, is now in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, to get that far at an event of this highest category, “that’s everyone’s dream when he’s with the tennis starts,” he exulted. But, it also became clear when he looked back, he wasn’t just concerned with himself. He is part of a larger story. Because the Americans, who have significantly shaped tennis history, with greats like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, haven’t shone in a while, but more recently, and especially at this Australian Open, they’ve made a strong statement.
For the first time since 2005, three US professionals in Sebastian Korda, Ben Shelton and Paul were in the quarter-finals in Melbourne, it is now often about classifications that begin with the words: for the first time since. Korda, son of Petr Korda, 1998 winner of the Australian Open, but then had to give up injured against the Russian Karen Khachanov. And Paul now defeated 20-year-old Ben Shelton, who also offered one of those wonderful feel-good stories, as they call it in American. Papa Bryan was once number 55 in the world, Ben inherited his talent, the left-hander, who became national college champion in his home country in 2022, enjoyed a lot of sympathy in his march through to the round of eight. However, Paul was too good and won 7:6 (6), 6:3, 5:7, 6:4.
One in five in the top 50 is American, 15 are in the top 100
Paul is the first American since 2009 to play in the semifinals in Melbourne stands, Andy Roddick, the crook with the huge serve, has found a successor. “It’s not just exciting for the American fans,” said Paul, who was born in New Jersey, grew up in North Carolina and now lives in Boca Raton, Florida. “It’s exciting for all the fans in the world. I’m happy for Ben, I’m happy for everyone else who’s stepping up now. foe was in the semifinals of the US Open, it’s me here now. There’s definitely a good group coming up.” By Foe he meant 25-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who even defeated Rafael Nadal in New York late last summer.
One US professional after another is coming up from all corners, that’s how it seems, and the numbers also show it. One in five in the top 50 is American, 15 are in the top 100. For comparison, the Germans have three representatives there in Alexander Zverev, Oscar Otte and Daniel Altmaier. The effort that the United States Tennis Association (USTA) made was not insignificant either, millions were put into youth projects in order to catch up with the glorious earlier times, which revived briefly after Paul’s victory.
Course interviewer John Fitzgerald pointed to Brad Stine in Paul’s box, recalling that he’s “jumped in the Yarra River a few times.” The 65-year-old was once Jim Courier’s coach and guided him to two Melbourne titles. In fact, Fitzgerald laughed, “maybe even before you were born.” Definitely even, because Courier won in 1992 and 1993, Paul was born in 1997. Stine is considered a successful coach, and when such a luminary is brought together with a talent like Paul, it ends in a Grand Slam semi-final. They have been working together for more than three and a half years. “Everyone has their own way,” Paul said, referring to his US colleagues, “mine was maybe the slowest.” He had won the French Open for juniors in 2015 and had always been in the shadow of his companion Taylor Fritz, whom he had defeated in the final in Paris.
But now he is the one who has arrived on the big stage. Another US professional. After the Australian Open, Tommy Paul will be among the top 20 players in the world for the first time. On Friday he faces the biggest hurdle in men’s tennis: Novak Djokovic, the nine-time Melbourne winner, who showed his frighteningly improving form in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 defeat of Andrei Rublev. But Tommy Paul’s mother didn’t travel to Australia to see her son knock out without a fight.