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In Zachary Svajda, U.S. Men See a Glimmer of Hope (Even in Defeat)

Court 5 at the United States Open overflowed with spectators on Monday, many standing on their tiptoes, craning their necks and waiting in lines at the small side court to get a glimpse of a teenager who holds some hope for the future of American men’s tennis.

Zachary Svajda is only 16, but until full-body cramps overtook him early in the third set against the veteran Paolo Lorenzi, he was the better player. Ultimately, Svajda could barely serve because of the cramping, and he was reduced to limping across the court. Lorenzi came back to win, 3-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in 4 hours 20 minutes, much to the dismay of the oversize crowd.

“For sure, he is much better than I was at age 16,” the 37-year-old Lorenzi said.

Svajda, who is from San Diego, was one of three young American men who impressed on Monday, alongside Reilly Opelka and Jenson Brooksby.

Opelka, 21, scored one of the upsets of the day, beating No. 11 Fabio Fognini, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3, on Court 17.

Brooksby, an 18-year-old from Sacramento, beat Tomas Berdych, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, in another match between a teenager and a tour veteran. Berdych, 33, is playing through a spate of injuries and considering retirement. Brooksby, on the other hand, is trying to decide whether to attend Baylor University or turn professional.

With wins in three qualifying matches at the U.S. Open, and a first-round victory on Monday, Brooksby is guaranteed $100,000 if he wants to cash the check instead of playing in college, which he said is still an option, though perhaps a fading one.

“The more I win here, obviously, the more likely it could go in the other direction,” he said.

Opelka is scheduled to play the German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the second round, and Brooksby will play No. 17 Nikoloz Basilashvili.

ImageCreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

They will go on without Svajda, who said that despite his cramping — it was so bad his fingers froze in awkward positions and he could not properly grasp his racket — he will play in the junior draw. That will allow more fans a chance to see his strong ground stokes, deft drop shots and uncanny athleticism on overhead smashes, all of which seem to come in spite of his 5-foot-9, 130-pound frame.

During Svajda’s match against the 135th-ranked Lorenzi, fans who were unable to find space on his court went to the stands of nearby Court 6 and watched from there. Many times the fans chanted his last name — which is pronounced SVAI-da — and also chanted, “Let’s go Zach.”

“I’ve never experienced any of that,” he said. “I loved it.”

Many American tennis fans are eager to discover the country’s next man who can lift a Grand Slam trophy, which would end a drought that started after Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003.

“Not desperate,” Brooksby said, “but I know that I’m American and they want Americans to do well.”

John Isner, 34, is the top-ranked American male player, at No. 14. There are three other American men in the top 45, including No. 26 Taylor Fritz (who lost to Feliciano López on Monday), No. 42 Opelka and No. 45 Frances Tiafoe. All are 21.

Brooksby was ranked 394th coming into the tournament, and Svajda has just one ATP point, giving him a ranking of 1,415. But he qualified for the U.S. Open main draw by winning the national championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., a tournament he almost did not enter.

ImageCreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Svajda has played very few junior tournaments, by design. His father, Tom Svajda, is a tennis coach, and he said that his son did not have fun playing a junior tournament when he was younger. Instead, Zachary has played a limited number of tournaments, mostly professional futures and challenger events against men in their 20s, which he enjoys more.

“We give him advice,” Tom Svajda said, “but he makes the decisions about his career.”

One important piece of advice Tom Svajda gave his son was to play the Kalamazoo junior tournament, which Tom played in 1982 and called a memorable experience. Zachary agreed and proceeded to win the tournament, which earned him a wild card to the U.S. Open.

He also learned that he could play with top players by practicing with his mentor, Isner, and also with Roger Federer in Indian Wells, Calif., in March.

There were indications that Zachary was gifted as far back as when he was 3, his father said. That is when Tom Svajda offered to pay a professional coach, Matt Hanlin, to hit with a toddler. Hanlin hesitated, but after 30 minutes on the court, he told Tom that he wanted to work with Zachary. They have been together ever since.

In helping guide Svajda’s rise, Hanlin was on board for the strategy of having Svajda skip the junior circuit in order to train, feeling that the defensive style many players favor would not help Svajda’s game.

“He can hit out and play big,” Hanlin said. “The only thing I can’t do anything about is his size. He’s still got a 16-year-old’s body. But as soon as his legs are up to par with these other guys, he can do some great things out here.”

Svajda may want to find out quickly how he fits into the future of American tennis, though. He has a younger brother, Trevor, who is 13 and might be even better.

More U.S. Open CoverageMen’s Tennis Waits (and Waits) for New BloodAug. 25, 2019For Federer and His Fans, a Chance to Leave Wimbledon BehindAug. 26, 2019Battling Their Way Into the U.S. OpenAug. 24, 2019


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