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.

Mexican and American Tennis

Of course, I am referring to the tournament in Los Cabos and the popular Citi Open in Washington D.C., two hard court tune-ups for the gentlemen this week.

I’ll keep this short, just wanting to give a nod to a couple of trends that I’m watching. Taylor Fritz is playing Los Cabos, the American NextGener for which we started to develop a couple of expectations last year as he was in the news for his decent play, breaking into the top 100, reviving the American tennis heart beat, perhaps. But he’s had a bit of drop-off, just not getting beyond R1 in bigger tournaments. Been a bit of a disappointment.

He survived Kukushin in 1R yesterday, coming back from losing the first set TB to take the final two sets 2 and 2. Well done. He followed-up that with a victory tonight over #23 Ramos-Vinolas, a difficult assignment, in straights. We get a Fritz v Kokkinakis in R16 tomorrow, which I will have to watch. Certainly an advantage to the Aussie who has played pretty well over the last few months; he beat another decent American youngster in Tiafoe in 1R.

Querrey, Feli Lopez and Berdych are also still playing south of the border.

The other American I’m watching is Tommy Paul, advancing today in D.C. by beating 7-seed Pouille. Brilliant result for another NextGen, who’s now 20. He survived Casper Ruud in 1R, due to a retirement in the third set the American led 3-0, a solid match of young athletic types before the 18 year-old Olso resident waved the flag.

I watched most of the Pouille v Paul match and though this did not have much memorable tennis through much of the first set, the TB heated things up until Pouille DF at 6-6, giving Paul serve and his second SP, which he converted. Paul broke the Frenchman in the 2nd game of the 2nd, and looked to serve-out this match.

At 3-1, Paul had a tough hold, needing some strong ball-striking to keep 17 in-the-world Pouille from taking back control of the set and probably the match. He held, but was then broken at 4-2 in a fairly dramatic game in which Paul managed to save 5-6 BPs before succumbing. With Pouille putting the set back on serve, Paul immediately broke back and served-out the second set 6-3. Really solid work from one of the American youngsters we haven’t seen do much at all on tour.

He and Fritz brought a bit of flare to their professional prospects having done well in the Juniors. In 2015, in their last year in Juniors, Paul beat Fritz in the French Open Juniors final and Fritz answered back in the Jr. USO final.

So, nice to see these two, this week, gaining some confidence, advancing. Paul has the lefty from Luxembourg tomorrow, who beat Paul easily last week in Atlanta if I’m not mistaken. Good luck against that veteran’s wily serve and volley.

Sorry to focus so much on the Americans here, but perhaps one might understand the broader appeal – we need the youngsters to grow-up and play some ball (any youngsters!). This dearth of talent or maturity from the younger players has been pretty astonishing.

At the same time, I did find myself, admittedly, imagining a Davis Cup American side with some winning depth in the future (if we’re lucky). Americans have had some depth over the years, as you know. How about that one DC squad made-up of Pete, Andre, Jim and Todd Martin. Any surface, any day, anywhere. Ha ha.

The rest of the draw in D.C. looks fairly appetizing. Although defending champ Monfils has been dismissed, as well as Zverev the elder by the pesky Pella, tomorrow’s matches include: DelPo v Nishikori and the younger Russian Medvedev v Dimitrov, which should be interesting. Zverev the younger, Raonic, Thiem and Sock also have matches tomorrow.

Speaking of rooting for the youngins’ to get their crap in gear, Sascha, who needed a little work to get by the young Aussie Thompson today (tough match), has added the almost forgotten Juan Carlos Ferrero to his coaching staff. He will work with Alexander Sr. and imrs.phpcontinue to develop the tour’s strongest younger threat, who already has a Masters title, as you know. This is a great sign that the young German isn’t wasting time, nor does he appear to have an over-bearing parent/coach. The relationship in the box appears to be great, though this is the first week they’ve worked face-to-face; Ferrero was tapped in Madrid a few months ago, apparently.

More needs to be discussed in terms of this next generation’s progress, possibly a sequel to the Lost Boys (Raonic, Kei, Grigor, et al.). 2017 Fedal only magnifies the tour’s insecurities as far as the golden era after-life is concerned.

Folks, sorry if the tinkering-with-the-look-of-the-blog is annoying. I am trying to do as much of this on my own as I can, and you can probably discern that I am not one of these youngsters who masters electronic devices and their social media as if they’re programmed to do so from birth.

Any feedback you have is welcomed and appreciated. Hopefully this will all be seamless, with minimal distraction.

Be sure that the tennis conversation will continue, unabated, and begin to ramp and boom as the boys start to rattle their big HC engines, destination NYC.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s matches and discussing these matters and more, so stay-tuned.

And, yes, of course we will continue to explicate the DHFE jeremiad.