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The South Jersey native is putting on a career-defining run at the US Open

NEW YORK – When Thomas Paul Having free time from his life as a professional tennis player, he sometimes stays on his mother’s farm in Lumberton, NJ, doing chores like helping move hay bales with a Bobcat machine. Jill MacMillan’s farm has a horse, eight sheep, 100 chickens and a couple of dogs, so there’s plenty to do.

“It’s nice to get your hands dirty every now and then,” says Paul, 25, with a smile.

But Paul ranked 34th in the worldHe hopes he will be too busy playing tennis to visit the court in the coming days. After defeating his American compatriot Sebastian Korda In five sets on Wednesday in the grandstand, he meets No. 5 in the seed Kasper Ruud in the third round on Friday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“Hopefully I’m going deep enough into this tournament where I don’t have time to go home,” he said with a chuckle.

Paul outlasted Korda 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. It was his second straight five-set win after beating Spain Bernabe Zapata Miralles in the first round on Monday despite struggling with cramps in his hamstring and hand. He had never won a US Open match before this year and was 3-0 against Korda.

But Paul who was born in Voorhees Township, moved to North Carolina to pursue his tennis dreams and now lives and trains in Del Rey Beach, Florida playing some of the best tennis courts of his life. After winning the French Open junior title in 2015 at the age of 18, at the ripe old age of 25 he finally seems to be fulfilling his big promise.

He won his first ATP singles title at the Stockholm Open last November, becoming the first American to win the tournament in 15 years. He recorded two big upsets in the past year – defeating No. 5 Andrey Rublev at Indian Wells last October and No. 3 Alexander Zverev at Indian Wells last March.

He reached the fourth round at Wimbledon this summer, his best performance there, and is one of two Americans already in the third round at the US Open. Four other American men were scheduled to play their second-round games on Thursday.

Paul has struggled at the Open in recent years but said he’s feeling more comfortable this year.

“When I was leading into the tournament, I just felt so overwhelmed,” he said of the past few years. “I felt like I was late for everything. I couldn’t find the right timing for the transportation to get from the city to the site. I was just always stressed and my team really felt it. And my team sat me down and said, ‘Dude, you need to relax.’

“The US Open has always blown me away and after my first round I feel like a completely different person here. I’m relaxed and feel so much better man walking around like I’m not stressed at all. I feel relaxed on the pitch and have fun on the pitch.”

He was also due to play his first-round doubles match with a fellow American on Thursday jack sock.

TaylorFritzthe senior American and a friend from his time living and training at the USTA Center in Florida says his pal could be “extremely dangerous” at the Open.

“I find [Paul] played great,” said Fritz. “I think Tommy has really figured it all out throughout the year but really especially in the last few months and I’ve always known the level of Tommy.

“It was just more of a question of doing it and it’s been really great to see that over the past few months. And I think he’s an extremely dangerous person in the draw.”

Paul’s run at the Open has coincided with this Serena Williams‘ inspirational journey to the third round at almost 41 years old. While Paul was delivering his post-match press conference on Wednesday, Williams ended a dramatic upset by world No. 2 Anett Kontaveit outside a rough-and-tumble Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I think it’s amazing, the amount of attention she’s given to tennis throughout her career is unreal and this year you can just feel it,” said Paul. “I have friends who don’t know anything about tennis and don’t talk about it. It’s just amazing.”

Paul added that he spent “quite a bit of time” with Venus Williams in South Florida around the world of tennis.

“They’ve always been super nice to me and just nice personalities,” he said. “I think it was so cool to have [Serena] playing this US Open and bringing so much attention to the sport. I hope she goes all the way.”

While Serena has won 23 Major singles titles, no American has won a Major title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open, and no American has been in the semifinals of a Major since John Isner at Wimbledon in 2018. A lot of it has to do with three Europeans – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – dominating men’s tennis for nearly two decades, amassing a total of 63 major titles. (Nadal is the only member of the “Big 3” competing in New York.)

Although a number of young Americans are breaking through – four made it to the fourth round at Wimbledon and Fritz reached the quarterfinals – Paul believes none are ready to challenge for a Grand Slam title just yet.

“You have to win seven matches, three sets out of five, and I don’t think any of us are at that point right now,” Paul said. “I think we have to work hard and keep going. I don’t think there’s a reason either of us couldn’t get hot and do it deep, maybe win the tournament. But for us to really be at that level, I think we still have a lot to do and we’re all looking forward to continuing to work.”

Paul’s next task won’t be easy. He has already lost to Ruud in the second round of the Australian Open in 2021 and the second round of the French Open in 2020. Paul beat Ruud on an outdoor hard court in Washington in 2017 when Ruud fell 3-0 in the decider.

“He caught me twice in slams so that’s where he’s looking for a little revenge, you know?” said Paul. “He played unreal, he is a top five player and deservedly so. It should be a really fun match. I know his playing style. He has adapted very well to hard courts lately.”

Paul’s mother, who helped teach him the game, will be at the game along with his stepfather, coach Brad Stine and other members of his team. He also has many friends in junior tennis or who work in the New York area who support him.

“It’s really nice that everyone comes to all the games,” he said.

And for his sake, he’s hoping to continue his run at the Open so he doesn’t have to go back to piling hay bales on the farm.

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Adam Zagoria is a freelance reporter covering Seton Hall and NJ college basketball for NJ Advance Media. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamZagoria and visit his website at ZAGSBLOG.com.

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