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Paul, Shelton lead American charge into U.S. Open fourth round

One day after the leader of American men’s tennis for more than a decade officially retired, the next generation delivered the best day for American men’s tennis in…well…more than a decade.

Carrying the proverbial torch passed to them by John Isner pretty much exactly 24 hours earlier, four men from the host nation in the U.S. Open singles draw advanced to the fourth round. It’s the first that at least four have advanced this far at Flushing Meadows since 2011.

The success-starved USTA has Tommy Paul, Ben Shelton, Taylor Fritz, and Frances Tiafoe to thank. Fritz rolled to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 victory over Jakub Mensik, while the rest of the gang prevailed in four sets. Paul held off Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Shelton overpowered Aslan Karatsev, and Tiafoe survived a particularly entertaining affair with Adrian Mannarino.

In his defeat of Karatsev, Shelton cracked 26 aces, won 86 percent of his first-serve points, was broken just once, and lost only one point on his serve in the first set. Shelton, who is 20 years old and not far removed from his University of Florida playing days, also recorded a 147 MPH ace–the fastest of the tournament so far.

“I am really pleased with my performance today,” Shelton said during his on-court interview. “(I’m) happy with the way I served; I think it was one of my best serving days ever. I think I had the most aces I have had in a match and it was the day after John Isner played his last match. It is kind of weird. Maybe he left some of his serving magic out for me, so thanks Johnny.”

At least one American on the men’s side is guaranteed a quarterfinal spot, because Paul and Shelton are going head-to-head. It will be a rematch of an Australian Open quarterfinal showdown from earlier this season, when Paul prevailed 7-6(6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

“I’m happy to see him doing well this week,” Paul said of his Miami doubles partner. “(It) should be a fun match. I think everyone is excited about both of us right now. I’m excited for that matchup.”

The excitement is real. It’s for the four men who are into the fourth round. It’s for the potential of five, which has not been done since 1995 (Michael Mmoh has a chance to join the quartet on Saturday when he faces Jack Draper one round after he ended Isner’s career). It’s also for the fact that in addition to one guaranteed quarterfinalist, a semifinalist looks almost certain (the other quarterfinal matchup in the Paul-Shelton section of the bracket is Tiafoe vs. Rinky Hijikata).

“I am proud to be an American,” Shelton declared to the fans in the Grandstand. “This is the greatest atmosphere in tennis, so being an American here is unmatched.”

“This is the best tournament for Americans to play in,” Paul added during his press conference. “Obviously around the grounds everyone is really stoked and excited about the Americans. Every time I pass one of the TVs here, it’s like, ‘Is an American (man) gonna win a slam for the first time in 20 years?’”

That may be getting a little carried away, and 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick ain’t walkin’ through that door. Nonetheless, the “USA” chants are suddenly becoming not only louder but also more hopeful.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on Twitter at @Dimonator.