June 22, 2024

It was an odd year for American tennis.

There were, as always, random thrills and breakthroughs. On the men’s side, for instance, Tommy Paul reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, and Christopher Eubanks enjoyed a late-career breakthrough at Wimbledon. But the year as a whole often felt like one of stagnation.

Taylor Fritz basically ended the year where he started from a rankings standpoint and couldn’t turn a top-10 ranking into sustained threats in Grand Slams. Frances Tiafoe dipped his toe into the ATP top 10 but suffered a major funk at the end of the year. Sebastian Korda seemed primed for a breakthrough but missed months with an injury. Reilly Opelka was still working back from injury. Jenson Brooksby was suspended for 18 months for missed drug tests. John Isner faded, then retired.

On the women’s side, Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff both remained steady threats, but for much of the year, they, too, seemed to be running in place a bit. Veterans like Madison Keys, Danielle Collins and Sloane Stephens battled consistency issues. Jennifer Brady was still working back from injury.

The US Open changed quite a bit. Gauff kicked into top-three mode over the summer and rode it to her first Slam title, while Keys came within a heartbreaking third-set tiebreak loss of the finals. Meanwhile, Fritz, Tiafoe and up-and-comer Ben Shelton broke into the quarterfinals, with the 21-year-old Shelton swaggering his way into the semis.

With lots of stars making gains and a couple breaking through in a major way, suddenly 2023 went from a year of stagnation to tantalizing development and depth. What will 2024 have in store? Do players such as Pegula, Fritz and Tiafoe still have another level to add to their respective games? Can Gauff maintain her otherworldly summer and fall form? Does Shelton’s trajectory continue? Acknowledging that there are also surprises — and that tennis’ brief offseason is the perfect time for “Here’s where [player] overcomes injuries and surges again” optimism — here are our predictions for the top 10 American men and women, ranked by their 2024 prospects.


Women

1. Coco Gauff
Age: 19; Current WTA rank: third (this time last year: seventh)

We talk a lot about ceilings in a piece like this, and for a while it felt as if Gauff had found hers. She spent most of a year ranked either seventh or eighth in the world, and from August 2021 through May 2023, she went just 3-15 against top-10 opponents. She was nearly upset-proof, but she was struggling to break through to a top-five level.

Then she did exactly that. After a change to her coaching team, she won summer titles in Washington and Cincinnati, beating Iga Swiatek for the first time. Then she carved through the US Open field, beating Aryna Sabalenka in the final. She won 22 of 23 matches at one point, won nine of her last 13 against top-10ers and finishes the year third in the world. She is officially a threat to win any Slam she enters for the foreseeable future. Her surge was the story of American tennis in 2023.

2. Jessica Pegula
Age: 29; Current rank: fifth (last year: third)

She is maybe the most consistent player, in both singles and doubles, on the women’s tour. She’s reached the quarterfinals of five of her past eight Slams, the semis of eight of her past 13 1000-level events (with two titles) and, with Gauff, the semis of three of her past six doubles Slams. She beat Gauff twice during the teenager’s incredible summer/fall run, and she began 2023 with a blowout of Swiatek. All that’s missing is a Slam breakthrough.

3. Madison Keys
Age: 28; Current rank: 12th (last year: 11th)

One of the most momentum-based players you’ll ever see, Keys won her first seven matches of the year, fell to 25th after a disappointing clay season, won nine of 10 on grass, charged to her sixth career Slam semifinal at the US Open and then finished the year with four straight losses. She was an excellent 4-5 against the top 10 … and only 10-8 against the rest of the top 50. She remains capable of just about anything at any time.

4. Emma Navarro
Age: 22; Current rank: 32nd (last year: 151st)

Navarro won just one Slam match, but she finished the year on the brink of the top 30 thanks to steadily awesome performances at minor events. She reached seven ITF finals (with five titles) and won 64 of a grueling 88 matches. She also beat two top-15 players, Maria Sakkari and Keys, in September. Her serve needs work, but Pegula might be the only American with a better return game. She is a major 2024 breakthrough candidate.

5. Jennifer Brady
Age: 28; Current rank: 233rd (last year: 1,056th)

In her past four Slams, Brady has won 15 matches and reached two semifinals and one final. Unfortunately, those four events have come in a more than three-year span. Foot and knee injuries kept her off the tour for nearly two straight years, but in six summer/fall events she managed to beat three top-30 opponents and nearly toppled Elena Rybakina in Montreal. Now she only needs her body to cooperate.

6. Danielle Collins
Age: 30; Current rank: 52nd (last year: 14th)

Collins was beset by unlucky draws in 2023, finishing seven of her 18 tournaments against Swiatek, Pegula or Rybakina. But she went 22-11 against everyone else on tour, with two top-10 wins and four quarterfinal appearances. She is managing a number of chronic issues and doesn’t play a ton of events, but at worst she should remain a constant bracket-buster candidate in any tournament.

7. Sofia Kenin
Age: 25; Current rank: 33rd (last year: 230th)

In 2020, Kenin won the Australian Open and finished the year fourth in the world; she finished 2022 at 228th. After her career was derailed by injuries and vanishing form, Kenin stubbornly found herself again in 2023, beating Gauff at Wimbledon and Sabalenka in Rome and, in San Diego in September, reaching her first tour final since the 2020 French Open. She lost four of five to end the year, but she’s nearly back in the top 30 and, at 25, still has time to carve out another peak.

8. Sloane Stephens
Age: 30; Current rank: 47th (last year: 37th)

When health, form and motivation all collide, Stephens remains a tough out. She played nine matches against top-20 opponents in 2023 and either beat them or took them to three sets five times. But she also lost 10 matches to players outside of the top 50. She went 13-5 on clay but 12-15 on other surfaces. The 2017 US Open champion remains a threat in any match, but she still struggles to string good performances together.

9. Peyton Stearns
Age: 22; Current rank: 49th (last year: 209th)

The former Texas Longhorns player cracked the top 200 in January, the top 100 in April and the top 50 in September. She beat past French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko at Roland Garros and took Wimbledon champ Marketa Vondrousova to three sets at the US Open. Her serve might limit her ceiling, but her return game and groundstrokes are excellent.

10. Ashlyn Krueger
Age: 19; Current rank: 82nd (last year: 183rd)

A star on the ITF level for two years now, Krueger enjoyed a nice fall breakout, beating No. 35 Lin Zhu to win the Osaka title and crack the WTA top 100 — the first American teenager since Gauff to do so — in September. She beat Victoria Azarenka over the summer and got experience against both Pegula and Ons Jabeur in the fall. At 6-foot-1, she has a strong first serve, and her movement is solid for a taller player.


Men

1. Taylor Fritz
Age: 26; Current ATP rank: 10th (this time last year: ninth)

The 2023 campaign was indeed one of maintaining elevation for Fritz. For the second straight year, he won eight total Slam matches and 17 matches at ATP 1000 events. He won two titles and finished in the top 10 once again. Is that his ceiling? Can he carve out a few more victories in Slams and threaten the top-five? Can an up-and-coming countryman take his place atop this list?

2. Ben Shelton
Age: 21; Current rank: 17th (last year: 96th)

Shelton hurtled through all sorts of firsts in 2023. First Slam quarterfinal? He checked that one off at the Australian Open, his second Slam. First Slam semi? Boom. US Open. First frustrating career funk? Going 7-17 from February to July counts. First time annoying Novak Djokovic? He did that, too. First tour title? Tokyo in October. The ultra-athletic, 6-foot-4 Shelton might have the most upside in the American player pool. The tour adjusted to him in the spring and summer, and he found another gear in the fall.

3. Frances Tiafoe
Age: 25; Current rank: 16th (last year: 19th)

Big Foe spent most of three months ranked 10th in the world. But starting with his US Open quarterfinal defeat to Shelton, he lost five of seven and dropped his last six sets of the year. Since winning four of five against top-10 opponents in 2021, he’s dropped nine of his last 11 and went 0-3 (with zero sets won) this year. There’s still room for improvement and plenty of time left to improve.

4. Sebastian Korda
Age: 23; Current rank: 24th (last year: 33rd)

The self-proclaimed “worst athlete in the family” appeared to be on his own mega-breakthrough in 2023 after dominating Daniil Medvedev on his way to the Australian Open quarterfinals. But a wrist injury there knocked him out for most of four months, and he won only one Slam match the rest of the year. He won 10 of 12 at one point in the fall, however, and his game is the most well rounded of any of the other “young, big-serving American” prototypes.

5. Tommy Paul
Age: 26; Current rank: 13th (last year: 32nd)

Paul made the most of a favorable Australian Open draw to charge to the semis, then pulled off his best win of the season — a three-setter over Carlos Alcaraz — to reach the semifinals in Toronto. He might have the best return game of any American, but at 6-foot-1 his service game isn’t nearly as big. That might firmly establish that he’s got a lower overall ceiling, but he’s got a higher floor, too.

6. Reilly Opelka
Age: 26; Current rank: 1,141st (last year: 38th)

The 6-foot-11 serve-bot missed most of a year with a hip injury, then hurt his wrist during rehab. After one match in a challenger event in November, he withdrew with a hand injury. He has earned seven total rankings points since August 2022. But he’s also only 26, and if his now-lengthy injury history was more bad luck than a sign of things to come, he’s got plenty of time to again establish himself as a top-30 or so presence.

7. J.J. Wolf
Age: 24; Current rank: 53rd (last year: 66th)

The oft-mulleted 24-year-old reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and briefly sneaked into the ATP top 40. He went 3-5 against top-20 opponents, too — better than Paul. But he also lost four straight matches at one point during the American summer swing and dropped back out of the top 50. The 6-footer has a slightly less consistent version of Paul’s game, but he can mix it up with just about anyone outside the top 10.

8. Brandon Nakashima
Age: 22; Current rank: 134th (last year: 47th)

After a bright 2022, Nakashima suffered a lost year of sorts. He spent much of the year battling a nagging knee injury; after ranking in the mid-40s for most of the spring, he found himself in the 150s in October. He rallied, pummeling No. 5 Holger Rune in Shanghai in October, and including challenger events, he won seven of his last nine matches of the year.

9. Christopher Eubanks
Age: 27; Current rank: 34th (last year: 123rd)

The story of the summer, Eubanks reached the quarterfinals in Miami, then produced a 14-4 record on grass, winning in Mallorca and beating Stefanos Tsitsipas on the way to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Things trailed off from there. He lost nine of 12 matches to slip back out of the ATP top 30. Tennis Abstract’s Elo rankings — which are predictive and results-based instead of points-based — currently rank him just 67th. Does he have another surge in him?

10. Alex Michelsen
Age: 19; Current rank: 97th (last year: 600th)

It might be presumptuous putting the teenager here instead of more established players such as Mackenzie McDonald or Marcos Giron. But it’s more fun, too. The big-serving, 6-foot-4 Michelsen took down both McDonald and John Isner on his way to the Newport finals in July. Success on the challenger and futures circuits bumped him into the top 100 and earned him a spot in the year-end NextGen finals. He’s very much a work in progress, but he’s a name to watch.

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