ATP Youth On the Rise

The complicated discussion of the ATP youth took a more positive spin last week (for which I will provide a more positive spin), which naturally follows from play earlier in the year and is actually part of a basic cycle of life: the young grow, mature, become stronger and more refined in order to overcome their elders. However (and this has become pretty redundant over the last ten years or so), the this discussion has been suffocated by the delayed/nonexistent fulfillment of the youth (the lost generation) on the ATP.

This is really a discussion/essay/thesis all to itself. What the fuck has happened to the younger generation of players who should have been poised to make more headway into the Masters and major level tournaments? Most will say that’s because the big 3 (or 5) have been just too strong/great/wonderful/heroic blah blah blah. But that doesn’t excuse a more genuine effort from players not named Fedal or Djokeray or Wawrinka. The emptiness of challenge from the field against these top dogs as been bewildering.

We saw glimpses of the Dimitrov talent in January where he swept a solid field at Brisbane and then made a solid run in Melbourne, finishing with a stand-up effort against Nadal in that classic AO SF.

But it wasn’t just his results. I wrote a bit, excitedly, about his all-court game showing so much promise early-on. He’s baby-Fed for a reason, but does have his own style and it’s an ascendant style that should frighten the stationary, defensive status quo of the tour. But he’s failed to break-through, whether that was in Melbourne vs. Nadal or afterwards, at IW, Miami, on clay or even the lawns of SW19 where he gave the tennis world all sorts of hope back in 2014 when he made the WB SF, losing to Djokovic in a tight four-setter 64 36 76 76. This is merely trivia at this point. His consistency has been an issue certainly, but his loss to Federer at WB this year seemed to really expose the Bulgarian’s glaring weakness: his serve. At 6′ 3″ he should be much more imposing on that feature of his game.

Nishikori makes perhaps the best case of this era’s “youth,” but despite this rumor based only on consistency (ironically, given his investment in injury), he’s without a Masters title, and only one major final appearance (’14 USO). This we’ll find pretty much describes most youthful candidates.

Raonic? WB final appearance, some major SF appearances, as well. But I’ve never thought he was much of a challenger beyond a big serve.

Cilic and Del Potro are perhaps the two that really do symbolize this group’s short-comings. Cilic captured his one major (’14 USO), but has had massive consistency issues since (though has looked quite good at times this season on multiple surfaces deep into draws). Del Potro is just a sad story. Hopefully he can rebound in the near future (saw signs of an improved BH), but by winning his first major at 20 years of age, and showing all kinds of character in big matches against the big 3 early-on, this legacy will have tennis fans scratching their heads, and mumbling the shoulda coulda woulda eulogy in their tennis dreams.

There are just too many Dolgopolovs and not enough Del Potros.

But there’s a new era in town. It’s about time, right?

This youth includes these gents:

Dominic Theim – 23. He looks poised, especially on clay. Some strategic changes to his game will open-up success on the other surfaces, as well. We have followed him closely. His heart is in the right place; he wants to play, compete and win. It should be just a matter of time.

Sascha Zverev – 20. Has a Masters (Rome), comes from a good tennis family and added a coach (Ferrero). He’s the most serious, it seems, with a very serious game, big ground strokes, serve and mettle. Will continue to get better and at 6′ 6″ we have our Del Potro second-coming.

The Russians – Andrey Rublev (19), Karen Khachanov (21), and Daniil Medvedev (21). Khachanov has made the most noise, perhaps, but Medvedev has challenged all year and Rublev won Umag a few weeks ago, his first ATP title. Lots of potential here.

The Australians – Kyrgios (22), Tomic (24), Thanasai Kokkinakis (21) and Jordan Thompson (23). The first two are well known, and we’re getting to know the other two. We can delete Tomic based-on his continual failure in the professional ranks. Kyrgios has been documented by us all, in terms of his talent and his emotional instability. He’s arguably the most talented/gifted of this next class, but he has to find some deeper draws, some finals and some titles. He needs to keep growing along the lines of the commitment shown from Zverev.

Kokkinakis has all kinds of potential. He made the Los Cabos final last week after beating Berdych. A fine run from this youngster who’s been battling some injury the last couple of years.

I enjoyed watching this highlight between Taylor Fritz and Kokkinakis as this is potentially what the future of the tour could look like. This is a QF in Los Cabos.

This is a close match, especially that first set which more or less is decided on a ball hitting the top of the tape. Good stuff.

The Americans – Taylor Fritz (19), Frances Tiafoe (19), Jared Donaldson (20), Reilly Opelka (20), Ernesto Escobedo (21), Tommy Paul (20) and there are a few others like Frantangelo (24) and Mmoh (19). This is a good group, a lot of youth here. But, we’re seeing a lot of inconsistency (naturally) and/or just the lack of experience (strength) to muster a significant breakthrough.

For instance, I was really looking forward to a Tiafoe v Kyrgios Montreal 2R, but the American lost today to the Lorenzi 67 60 26. That just seems a lack of focus. This may be the brightest of the group, with some nice showings over the last couple of years (he played Federer pretty well in Miami ’17 early rounds losing 67 26). He’s an athlete at 6’2″ and, again, only 19.

Fritz has seen the most press given his small pedigree from Juniors and he has some tennis in the family. He became the youngest American to reach an ATP final (since Chang) with his run at the 2016 Memphis 250. He lost to Nishikori in that final. This showed all kinds of promise. He’s backed-off that a bit with some untimely losses, lack of consistency.

Donaldson beat Pouille in 1R play here in Montreal, but it looks like Pouille is having a bit of a sophomore slump. Either way, the kid Donaldson does have some fight in him and he gets Paire next.

Indeed, Pouille is having a tough time against these younger Americans. As I pointed-out in a recent post, Tommy Paul took care of him in straights in D.C. Tommy Paul has some pedigree as well from Juniors, which I clarify briefly in that previous post. He’s a clay courter by way of American east coast tennis where he grew-up playing on mostly clay.

This translates into a lot of top spin, but speaks to his ability to chase balls, keep points alive and use some of that athleticism and stamina to challenge and beat an opponent. I saw a lot of him from last week. After beating Pouille, he was asked about his next opponent, Gilles Mueller, who spanked the American in Atlanta the previous week. Paul hadn’t even been looking at the draw, didn’t really care. The demeanor was a very good look. He was brimming with confidence, which he explained grew as he found his feet and the longer rallies against these higher ranked players. A bit of that defensive tennis mentality but overall just a way to build confidence: stand your ground; get the ball back in play.

He had three MP against Nishikori in the Citi Open QF. He beat Pouille, Mueller and then had Kei at MP in the second set. The Japanese player looked fragile, actually played a bit of gamesmanship, apparently, as he looked at the end as the young American tried to close the door (Kei was not at the end). But, imho, that loopy clay-groomed top-spin came back to bite him; Paul has a ton of game and the future looks quite good for this guy, but he needs a flatter ball on this surface. At least so he can hit through the court at those critical points in the match. Three MPs.

Still, a solid week of work for the youngster.

The Rest: Canada’s Denis Shapovalov (18), Croatian Borna Coric (20), South Korean Hyeon Chung (21), France’s Quentin Halys (20), and, of course, Canada’s other bright youngster, 16 year-old Felix Auger Aliassime. Among others, of course.

As these veteran greats take tournaments and parts of seasons off, opportunity becomes rich for one or two of these youngsters to rise-up. We all want to see it. Believe me. Even if one of them beats your hero, the sport needs this young blood in a bad way.

Did I miss anyone or anything?

Another discussion that bounced high amongst the tennis crowd was the discussion of court speed. We’ll take this up in another post, but D.C. pretty much blew some minds as the center court and the Grandstand 1 court (especially) measured off the charts fast. Jim Courier weighed-in on this information and some overall views he has on court speed.

Hope you’re enjoying the tennis and the discussion.

20 thoughts on “ATP Youth On the Rise

  1. Yes, finally towards the end of this year, we are seeing some promise from these young players, and it’s about time. Theim was amazing during clay court season, Sascha Zverev looks like he will win a grand slam soon, and I’m super excited of what I saw of Tommy Paul in DC last week.

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    1. Matt

      I agree. TP looks like he might have that Theim-like engine. One of the biggest issues for many/most/all of the youngsters is their lack of physical presence against the big boys. Who knows what exactly goes into that, but some going three long or even Bo5 seems almost impossible for a youngster.

      Look at the weight Zvereve put on, or the physicality of a Theim, Kokk or Paul. These boys need to get to work!

      Like

  2. RJ

    Indeed! The time is nigh for work!

    Tomic should be put on the shelf. There was a documentary on free-to-air TV in AUS about Bernard (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFRcWJ6fP_Q) and basically it illustrates to me that he’ll always be in Neverland with Pan et al fighting Hook and swimming with mermaids – he doesn’t want it enough to knock the ATP elites off their perch to put in the required work. Rather the bare minimum to stay in the tour and collect that early round prize money. That is folly especially with the cut throat nature of the ATP tour.

    Matt, the McShow blog does frown at bias etc but nevertheless it’s natural to have some patriotism towards players from ones own country. Obviously being Australian I cast my eye at the Aussie players like yourself with the Americans – but that doesn’t mean I won’t call out the BS that Nick or Tomic has ‘served up’.

    If the Fedal 2017 show keeps rolling along then so be it. We’ll give them credit for their abilities. Admittedly, I’m excited to see who in this generation will assert themselves and send the established order into retirement? Maybe compared to a dominant 1 or 2 maybe the load will be shared amongst a handful of players?

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    1. Matt

      Good stuff, RJ. Effective analogy for Bernard Pan. What a shame.
      I am really pulling for Kyrgios; his top form would add so much to the sport.
      Right now, we can all see Sascha and Nick as potential beasts for years on tour,
      winning majors, Masters, pushing the rest of the players.

      As for bias, there is a bit of a difference when you pull for a player from your homeland.
      That’s only natural, one would think. When you root, on the other hand, for a favorite player
      because he wins a lot, etc., and you actually jump from “winner” to “winner,” you’re a tool
      or, more accurately, a front-runner or bandwaggoner. Not a great look.

      😀

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  3. clint grike

    Like what I’ve seen of Shapovalov! Playing nadal will be educational experience. Zverev will be a contender for years to come but Kyrgios is the guy who already has the tools – if he’s right physically and mentally (big if) – to be a threat to Fedal. I’m not a big fan (I find that little jump thing he does when he hits a drop shot so annoying). But I’m also pulling for him to deliver on his potential and not turn into another Tomic.

    Like

    1. Matt

      Shapovalov looks good. I’m also a big one-hander fan so look forward to watching this guy’s (hopeful) ascendancy.
      Even just a little resistance against Nadal would be a good sign. The crowd could get behind this youngster.
      Zverev and Kyrgios are in, I agree, though Zverev is doing so much more on the business-end of matches and tournaments.
      Kyrgios is scary, but that’s still being suffocated, ultimately, by his immaturity.

      Thanks, Clint!

      Like

      1. clint grike

        Yeah love the one hander and the attacking game. As he’s a lefty nadal won’t be able to attack the backhand with his cross court forehand; it’ll be forehand to forehand and with his height Shapovalov will be able to swing at the high bouncers. But rafa is so intimidating. The youngster will need all the help the home crowd can give him.

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      2. Matt

        Love the LOH. He’s got some panache too. Want to see him resist today. I think Nadal is inherently vulnerable on anything but clay, but he’s riding pretty high right now, sure.

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    2. Matt

      Of course, we get a little h2h between the German and Aussie today.
      I gave the edge to Nick in my preview – he has to be motivated by Sascha’s success
      and perhaps he’s over whatever’s ailing him. . .
      Opportunity (like in IW/MI) to flex for Nick.

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    3. Utsav

      Shapovalov was a handful all right! Smokes out Madal in a 3rd set TB. Only followed the scores of this match, so excited to see bits of a replay or the highlights to see what happened.

      I wonder – if Roger wins this, will he go all out in Cincy to be numero uno before the USO? I personally would advise against it.

      Like

      1. clint grike

        Haha! Just woke up and checked the results. I thought his game matched up well with rafa’s but didn’t expect him to follow up his biggest win to date by taking out nadal in the next round. Show some resistance as Matt put it – win a few big points and convince himself he belongs on the stage. He did a bit more than that. Still a work in progress but this kid has got it!

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    1. Caligula

      Aand apparently, I can’t write today, now I am “embarrassed”. As for Shapovalov, the kid has potential, but I think he has some insane luck at the moment, against del Po he won because the big Argentinian was completely off that day. As for Nadal who steamrolled Coric a day ago… Well there is just no excuse for Nadal.

      Like

      1. Matt

        There is no embarrassment anywhere; let’s call it disappointment and I suspect Rafa is as disappointed in himself as you are.

        Time to write, my friend. We have a lot to do, all of us here at Mcshow. Strong cup of coffee when the time is right, and then write!

        My cup has been poured, so a post is on its way.
        The youth have risen!

        Like

    2. Utsav

      Let me go out on a limb and say this – this is Fedal’s final year at the *very* top. Don’t know who exactly will replace them definitively (Djokoray themslves are on the wrong side of 30), but it will happen next year. Hope Roger and Rafa make the best of this.

      The US Open draw just came alive!

      Like

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