We had a very interesting couple of finals in two ATP 250 tournaments last weekend. The reigning U.S. Open champ, call him the sport’s current champ, Stan Wawrinka, was on display along with three of the future of the men’s game. No question these three youngsters (Zverev, Thiem and Pouille) along with Kyrgios, seem fairly capable of making noise at almost any tournament. Raonic (25) and Nishikori (26) appear in age and experience to lead this younger generational charge that will, believe it or not, finally topple the Big guns we’re watching fade from the sport, slowly but surely. Witnessing the U.S. Open this past month and seeing the tennis in these two finals (Pouille v Thiem in Metz and Wawrinka v Zverev in St. Petersburg) consolidated the change that’s in the air.
Stan kept the power in play, representing the past, by making an uneventful run to the final where he took-on the German Zverev, who’s dad is a former Russian player. I really tuned-in as Stan took control of the second set, having dropped the first, so we had ourselves a nice decider in the third. The Tennis Channel call seemed eager to get aboard the Stanimal bandwagon as he jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third, and appeared to have that look; but his inconsistent play allowed Zverev to get back on serve and even break the Swiss again at 5-5 (Alexander was 4/5 on BP, efficient) . Zverev then served-out the match and won his first title on tour. Props to the big guy. His solid BL game and decent creativity at net proved too much for Stan to overcome, which is so Stan Wawrinka.
Tennis fans are used to the God-mode of Fed, Rafa or Djoker. When those guys find (found) their form, they’re virtually unbeatable. Stan is not that kind of animal, as we know. On the one hand, his inability to close-out Zverev in that third set is troubling. He had game points to extend to 4-1. But the future, hopefully, is here; this kind of win could continue to propel this youngster toward the top of the tour, which the sport needs. He’s only 19. Although I think 6’6″ is too tall to be that consistently top notch, this kid has been consistently climbing the ranks. I read somewhere he’ll be the first under-20 year-old to make the top-25 since Djokovic in 2006.
As I watched the Pouille v Thiem final I thought, too, about age. Funny I almost thought these guys are getting old. Ha. Pouille is only 22, however, so he’s pretty green, really only having been on tour since 2014. But again, that’s what makes Zverev and Kyrgios’ (who has two titles on tour) games so interesting. Kyrgios turned 21 recently, but has already made a bit of splash. That is some serious youth with big games to complicate the inexperience.
The Moselle Open final between Pouille and Thiem (23) was marvelous (Thiem has, I’m fairly certain, eight ATP titles, 4 coming in 2015 and another 4 this season). Indeed, Pouille won his first tour title, as well. Pouille’s game is smart and athletic. His ability to work the ball all over the court is a great watch – his angles, his craftiness with the racquet, his serve that had a ton of action; he seems a player wise beyond his years (or between the ears). Thiem, conversely, plays like a dangerous youngster who has and knows his weapons; he’s the stronger of the two, and a bit more temperamental.
This particular match had the genuine feel of the future of the sport. Although the Frenchman seems to have a bit more to work with – a couple of times he finished points with a flattened THBH that absolutely murdered whatever dreamy rally that had going – Thiem is certainly for real and more with his sheer determination to go along with that classic style. As we know, the longer OHBH does not help on the faster surface. Stan is keeping that shot alive, but I think we tennis fans see the undeniable limitations of that shot. Clearly, this is the more beautiful (and potentially devastating) BH shot, but the safer THBH pays-off statistically. No question. That’s perhaps the biggest difference between these two future stars: Thiem’s game has to adapt to the faster court/game. Having said that, Thiem has played a lot of competitive tennis over the past few years and beaten good tour regulars, so his confidence is growing.
These are both great competitors and we should feel lucky to see them having this success with a chance to see some bigger H2Hs, bigger stakes, down-the-line. How about a few dramatic five-setters just to make the TSQ choke on its wheatgrass. By the way, watching Thiem fade in that second set reminds me, at least, how uneventful are some of these Bo3 matches (finals even). Sure, Pouille could have just raised his level, or Thiem perhaps feeling a niggle, a sore throat, etc. To the point: no question, Bo5 is the life-blood of championship men’s tennis.
In the end, great stuff both on the court and in the grander discussion of tennis’ big picture. Novak regroups, Stan keeps doing Stan, the rest of the top-10 is certainly sharpening their sticks, but these youngsters appear ready for battle.