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US men playing well

The Associated Press

WIMBLEDON, England — Brandon Nakashima’s victory over 2021 Wimbledon semifinalist Denis Shapovalov at Court 12 on Thursday at the All England Club? Martin Blackman was there.

That came after Taylor Fritz used a full-on, headfirst dive to reach an unreachable shot on the way to eliminating Alastair Gray on the same patch of grass. Blackman was present for that one, too, just as he was for Jenson Brooksby’s win at Court 17.

All in all, it’s been quite a productive — and rare — start to Wimbledon for Nakashima, Fritz, Brooksby and other American men: There will be eight of them in the third round, accounting for a quarter of the 32 players left in the field, the most for the country at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament since 1995. It’s also the most at any major since the 1996 U.S. Open.

And so, in some ways, it’s been quite a start for the U.S. Tennis Association and Blackman, the general manager of USTA Player Development.

“It was fun. It was really fun. I was bouncing around,” Blackman said during an evening rain delay Thursday, before heading back out to watch 18-year-old American Coco Gauff beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 6-3 on Centre Court.

Gauff, the French Open runner-up, became the fourth U.S. woman in the third round, joining No. 8 seed Jessica Pegula, No. 20 Amanda Anisimova and Alison Riske-Amritraj. Gauff faces Anisimova next.

“We’re moving in the right direction. Obviously the goal isn’t the third round. The goal is much farther than that,” Blackman said. “But when you get numbers like this, it’s an indicator of a process that’s working. So I think that’s what’s so encouraging. All the guys that are in the third round want to go much farther; I don’t think any of them are satisfied.”

Still, any sort of positive sign for U.S. men in tennis is bound to gain attention. They haven’t had the success the women have lately, led, of course, by Serena Williams and Venus Williams, but also with major trophies in the past five years for Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin, and runners-up in that span such as Gauff and Madison Keys.

Consider the history: No man from the country that produced Bill Tilden and Don Budge, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi has won any singles Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick did 19 years ago at the U.S. Open.

Then there’s this: In 2013, zero men from the United States reached Wimbledon’s third round — something that hadn’t happened since 1912, when no Americans entered the event.

“It’s great to see everyone doing well, going deep in these tournaments,” said Nakashima, a 20-year-old Californian who is ranked 56th and got past the 13th-seeded Shapovalov, a Canadian, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6) to get to the third round at the second consecutive major. “I’m just happy to be on the list.”

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