NEW YORK (Reuters) - For years the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has been working on a plan to ‘Make American Tennis Great Again’ and on Wednesday it all came together with American women completing a sweep of the U.S. Open quarter-finals.
For the first time since 1981 when Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Barbara Potter waved the Stars and Stripes, Americans grabbed all four semi-finals berths, guaranteeing one of them will hoist the trophy on Saturday.
For years critics have bemoaned the decline of the sport in the United State with ageing stalwarts Serena and Venus Williams grimly hanging on until the next generation arrived.
The sweep may be the most promising sign yet that American tennis, at least on the women’s side, has turned the corner and the Williams sisters can rest easy knowing the torch has been passed.
It has been a long wait but Madison Keys (22), Sloane Stephens (24), CoCo Vandeweghe (25) are now delivering on their promise and on Saturday one of them could grab a first major if Venus Williams does not add a third U.S. Open title to her collection.
Four players from the same country reaching the semi-finals is a rare feat.
Not since the 1985 Wimbledon championships when Navratilova, Evert, Zina Garrison and Kathy Rinaldi were the last four has any country swept the semi-finals of a women’s slam.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in this chair and had to hear how horrible tennis is in America,” said Keys, following her 6-3 6-3 win over Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi on Wednesday that completed the U.S. sweep.
“So this feels really good. The fact that there is going to be two all-American semi-finals, two people in the finals in Saturday, and Sam (Querrey) obviously had a great tournament.
“There is lots of young up-and-comers. I think there is a lot of good American tennis to come.”
No one is prepared to compare Keys, Stephens and Vandeweghe to Navratilova, Evert and Garrison but the three women have all earned their U.S. Open success.
Sidelined for almost a year after undergoing foot surgery last summer, Stephens was ranked outside the top 950 just six weeks ago while Keys missed the first two months of year recovering from wrist surgery.
Dropped by her coach after a first round loss at the French Open, Vandeweghe turned to Australian Pat Cash and the partnership has proven a winning one.
“It’s a process, everyone has their own path,” said Rinaldi, now the U.S. Fed Cup captain and the USTA’s lead national coach.
“The culture has just been so great, the pushing the healthy competitiveness and with Venus and Serena leading the way and being such tremendous role models, they have led the way it is just really exciting to see it come together.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney