JUDY WOODRUFF: Plenty of new thrills at this
year’s U.S. Open. On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal is still in. Roger Federer is out. But the big news this year is the success
of American women. With the legendary Serena Williams absent
— she delivered her first child last week — four others stormed into the semifinals. The other great Williams sister, Venus, joined
by three new to this grand stage, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, and CoCo Vandeweghe. It’s the first all-American semifinals since
1981. And it’s quickly rewriting the story of American
tennis. Jeffrey Brown reports from Flushing Meadows,
New York. JEFFREY BROWN: Not even U.S. tennis officials
dared predict this. Last week, outside the Arthur Ashe Stadium,
where the biggest matches are played, I talked to USTA player development director Martin
Blackman. So, how soon before we see another U.S. Open
American champion? MARTIN BLACKMAN, Director, U.S. Tennis Association:
I’m not going to put myself on the spot for that one. JEFFREY BROWN: You’re not going there for
me? MARTIN BLACKMAN: But I would say between three
and five years, we’re going to see American women on this court on the final Saturday. JEFFREY BROWN: Who are not named Williams. MARTIN BLACKMAN: Who are not named Williams. JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. MARTIN BLACKMAN: And we’re going to see American
men on that court. JEFFREY BROWN: Blackman was way off with the
women, with Venus Williams, joined by three other Americans making their first ever appearance
on the semis here. As for American men, that will have to wait. Just one, Sam Querrey, made it as far as the
Round of 16. In fact, no American man has won here since
Andy Roddick in 2003, the last Grand Slam title won by an American man. It’s a long drought that American tennis officials
are determined to end. MARTIN BLACKMAN: It’s so important. JEFFREY BROWN: You need that. MARTIN BLACKMAN: Oh, it’s so important. We need American players in here rocking the
house, you know, the way Jimmy Connors did, John McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras, the demonstration
effect for young people. Those were household names, American sports
heroes, honored on the wall of champions here at the Flushing Meadows, Queens, home of the
U.S. Open. More recently on the men’s side, almost all
European winners, especially the four greats who have dominated the sport for more than
a decade, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. JAMES BLAKE, Former Professional Tennis Player:
It has really been difficult for anyone to rack up more titles or Grand Slams outside
of them. So, it was just a little bit of a tough situation
to be in. JEFFREY BROWN: James Blake knows first hand
just how tough. Retired since 2012, he reached a top ranking
of number four in the world in 2006. But he beat Federer just once in 11 tries. Do you think tennis lost its power in the
culture of not getting the best athletes or not getting the best training as they are
getting in other countries? JAMES BLAKE: I don’t think it is the training. I think it is the fact that there is a lot
more competition in the States. There is basketball, there’s football, there’s
baseball. Soccer has become more popular in the States. Lacrosse has become more popular. So, some of the athletes are going to other
sports. JEFFREY BROWN: Former American great Jim Courier
faced plenty of stiff competition from abroad while winning four Grand Slams in the early
1990s. Today, Courier serves as captain of the U.S.
Davis Cup team, which competes with teams from other countries. He says players around the world are better
than ever, with access to all they need to reach the top. JIM COURIER, Former Professional Tennis Player:
I think we have to understand that the world is very different than it was when Americans
had nearly 50 percent of the top 100 players. We had the best coaching systems. We had the best information. The world wasn’t flat, to borrow Tom Friedman’s
book title. Information wasn’t democratized amongst the
Internet. JEFFREY BROWN: As for American women, no one
not named Williams has won a major championship since 2002. But a new generation has been on the rise. Washington Post tennis writer Ava Wallace. AVA WALLACE, The Washington Post: On the women’s
side, there’s a lot of optimism. There is people like Madison Keys and CoCo
Vandeweghe, Sloane Stephens, who have all, I believe, made semifinals of Grand Slams,
which is ultimately the goal in American tennis. That’s what the USTA has already said. They want to make Grand Slams, and they want
to make the second week of Grand Slams. JEFFREY BROWN: The USTA, the sport’s governing
body in this country, has been working hard in recent years to develop a new pipeline
of talent among women and men. For youngsters, there’s a program called Net
Generation. They were out in force at the U.S. Open watching
the pros. For older players, there is a new centralized
collaborative approach called Team USA, which offers support, including financial subsidies,
to every American ranked in the top 500. That effort got a huge boost this January
with the opening of a $60 million 100-plus-court training center near Orlando, where juniors,
collegiate players and pros can live and work part- to full-time and get a variety of help
to supplement their own private coaching. MARTIN BLACKMAN: Maybe it’s strength and conditioning. Maybe it is mental skills. Maybe it’s on-the-road coaching. But there is a way that we can help. You’re still preserving that customized team
around the individual player, but, at the same time, you are leveraging the performance
team expertise that they need to maximize their potential. It is a model that has been used by a lot
of Olympic sports. JEFFREY BROWN: Last week, one American player
mentored by Blackman, 19-year-old Frances Tiafoe, pushed Federer to the limit, before
falling in five sets. Taylor Fritz, also 19, won his first ever
Grand Slam match here. After losing a tough second round match, he
gamely talked with us about being part of the new USTA approach. TAYLOR FRITZ, Professional Tennis Player:
I kind of like the Team USA group. It is all the young American guys, we all
train together, practice together. We root for each other. We all want each other to do the best, and
we push each other. There is like a good competitiveness amongst
ourselves. JEFFREY BROWN: American women on their way
to the semifinals also spoke of the camaraderie they feel. And there is more talent just behind them. Shelby Rogers, in the bright yellow shirt,
seeded number 62 here, won one of the most thrilling matches, meeting the higher seeded
Australian Daria Gavrilova in a U.S. Open women’s record for length, three hours and
33 minutes. Afterwards, she was tired but happy. SHELBY ROGERS, Professional Tennis Player:
I love matches like that. You know, that is why I play the sport, the
competing, the individuality, the fight. JEFFREY BROWN: Rogers lost to the number four
seed in her next match, but she is a big believer in the potential of her group of American
women coming up after the Williams sisters. SHELBY ROGERS: Venus is still killing it. I love it. But they have been great mentors for us as
well. We genuinely want each other to do well, which
is a really cool thing to be a part of. JEFFREY BROWN: Will it work toward putting
American men and women atop the tennis world over the long run? Before this week’s string of success by American
women, former champion Jim Courier said this: JIM COURIER: We have to also realize that
this is very much a meritocracy. The thing that I preach to our young kids
is, we are not entitled to success. Because we’re American, it means nothing. The tennis ball has no idea what country you
are from when you hit it. We have got to earn it like everyone else. We have got to be as hungry, if not hungrier,
than everyone else. And we have got to go get it. So, that’s my message. JEFFREY BROWN: For the moment, plenty of reason
for hope, particularly with the final foursome this weekend. So, keep your eye on the bouncing ball. For the “PBS NewsHour” I’m Jeffrey Brown at
the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York.

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