Tommy Paul: Rivalry with other US players is competitive – but fun

Tommy Paul is one of several Americans on the ATP Tour.
Tommy Paul is through to the last eight at Queen's.

Queen’s is the most peculiarly British of tournaments, but it’s hard to ignore the American wave sweeping over the event in west London.

There were six American men in the draw at the start of the tournament – three of them seeds – and currently, there are three in the last eight, all in separate quarter-finals.

Among those making his way through the draw is Tommy Paul, who doesn’t always attract the same attention as some of his compatriots – but is just as effective on the court.

World No 13 Paul is the American No 2, one spot behind fellow quarter-finalist Taylor Fritz, and one spot ahead of Ben Shelton; Sebastian Korda and Frances Tiafoe are also in the top 30.

Paul is of the same generation as Fritz and Tiafoe and has known both since juniors, playing two junior Slam finals against Fritz – winning one apiece.

All close together in the rankings, it would be understandable if a little tension had crept into their respective relationships amid the mental demands and brutality of ATP Tour life.

But Paul, the winner of two ATP titles and an Australian Open semi-finalist last year, doesn’t feel that way.

“It’s competitive – but in a pretty healthy way,” he admits.

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“We’re not like smack talking each other, but if we do, it’s kinda like a joke. I think we all want each other to win, but we want to do better than the next guy. It’s pretty healthy.

“It’s weird – but it’s fun. I hate playing them first round of the tournament, I hate playing them in the second round.

“But if we’re in the semi-finals of a big tournament, the finals of a big tournament – that’s what we’ve been dreaming of since we were young, so I don’t mind that.”

The internal American rivalry may heat up ahead of the Olympics and then the US hard court summer – which culminates at the US Open in New York.

But before then, there is the matter of the grass season and Queen’s, before Wimbledon in less than two weeks.

Twelve months ago, Paul had to qualify for the main draw at Queen’s, ultimately beaten in round one by Francisco Cerundolo.

Now an established member of the top 20, Paul is the fifth seed at Queen’s this year and is safely through the last eight without dropping a set.

After dispatching Sebastian Baez 6-4, 6-4 in the opening round, Paul comfortably beat the much-improved Alejandro Tabilo 6-3, 6-4 to reach the last eight.

Coupled with a run to the final in Eastbourne last season, a quarter-final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last week – and a second-week showing at Wimbledon in 2022 – the 27-year-old has shown rapid progress on an unfamiliar surface.

That run at the All England Club was a maiden main draw showing at the event, having only played twice in qualifying previously – and he has only regularly been playing Slams since 2021.

Ahead of a crunch quarter-final against Jack Draper – the conqueror of Carlos Alcaraz – on Friday, Paul is happy with the confidence he has built on the surface.

“It was pretty good,” Paul said of his win over Tabilo.

“I came out and got the break early in both sets, which took some pressure off – and I was able to serve pretty well through both sets.

“I think every match, I’m still getting more and more comfortable on it. I’ve always really liked it – well, maybe not always – but the past four, five years, I’ve been a big fan of grass-court tennis.

“I think my game style has been going in that direction. I’m enjoying it and hopefully, we can get some more wins.”

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