The incredible dominance and longevity of the Big Four has obscured the lack of a successor (or successors) to their throne. Notice how the ATP has trumpeted the #NextGen campaign for the likes of Sascha Zverev, Borna Coric, Taylor Fritz and others, many of whom are still teenagers, none close to contending for the tour’s top titles.
That campaign is necessary to disguise the disappointment of the generation between the two, led by Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov. Two years after breakout 2014 seasons for that trio, they are all gone before the quarterfinals of the French Open.
Nishikori, 26, and Raonic, 25, have had strong 2016 seasons, with each winning a 250 title and making another Masters 1000 final (Dimitrov, meanwhile, is adrift at sea, sitting outside the top 30). At this point though, it’s not enough. The youngest men to have won a major are Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro, who both turn 28 in September. Novak Djokovic is the youngest man on the planet with a Masters 1000 title to his name. He turned 29 last Sunday.
Raonic, who lost in straights on Sunday to journeyman Albert Ramos-Vinolas, gets something of a pass due to clay not being his surface and the recurrence of his adductor injury (Wimbledon will be more of a barometer for him).
Nishikori, however, flamed out again, losing hours later to Richard Gasquet in four sets, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Known for struggling under pressure himself, Gasquet, nearly 30, had never made the quarters of his home Slam until uncorking an armada of his trademark one-handed backhands against Nishikori.
Losing in and of itself is not a failure, but Nishikori’s defeats follow a pattern. Clearly a top-five player this year, the Japanese star just hasn’t brought the goods at the sport’s top events since his magical run to the 2014 U.S. Open final, still the only time he’s advanced past the quarters at a Slam. Since then, he’s displayed neither the fearlessness of an underdog in straight set losses to Stan Wawrinka and Djokovic in Australia nor the confidence of a favorite against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last year in Paris, and now Gasquet.
Derisively dubbed “The Lost Boys,” their generation does have a couple of emerging members left though, as Dominic Thiem and David Goffin are one round away from a quarterfinal clash to become the ATP’s youngest active player to have reached the French Open semifinals. Both can enter the top 10 with a win on Monday (or later, weather depending) to help assuage fears that the #ATPDarkAgeIsComing.
Elsewhere on Sunday:
— After splitting two tough tiebreak sets, defending champion Wawrinka wore down Viktor Troicki, who became affected by a hip injury. He faces Ramos in the quarterfinals.
— Following two taxing five-set matches, Andy Murray got through in straights again over a big server, this time ousting John Isner, 7-6 (9), 6-4, 6-3. He would have been the favorite over Nishikori, but privately he must be happy to see Gasquet instead. The Frenchman is perhaps the least-threatening top-15 player to the game’s elite.
— American Shelby Rogers continued her Cinderella run, defeating Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-4. Begu’s not a household name, but she had a great clay season and is the fourth seed Rogers sent packing en route to the quarterfinals.
— Rogers will face her toughest test next in Garbine Muguruza, who reached her third straight quarterfinal in Paris by handling 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, by a 6-3, 6-4 score as well.
— Rain delays meant the other women’s round of 16 matches were suspended. Aga Radwanska leads Tsvetana Pironkova 6-2, 3-0, while Simona Halep leads Sam Stosur 5-3.
— The women’s doubles bracket lost its most notable teams. With 2015 champs Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands already out, both the Williams sisters (they were playing their second match of the day) and the top team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza lost in straight sets. Hingis and Mirza were attempting to hold all four Slams at once for what was preemptively dubbed the “Santina Slam.”
Monday’s marquee matches:
Timea Bacsinszky vs Venus Williams: A contrast in styles, this matchup pits the crafty and versatile (but power-lacking) Bacsinszky against the elder Williams sister, who’s been hitting clean winners all week. Prediction: Bacsinszky makes Venus move around the court more than previous opponents to win in three sets.
Tomas Berdych vs David Ferrer: Some predicted these two slumping veterans to get upset by this point, yet they are still here. Berdych’s win in Madrid a couple weeks ago was their first meeting on the dirt in a decade. The match will be more on his racket, as Ferrer will get balls back, but the heavy conditions will make it tougher for him to end points. Prediction: Berdych in four.
Madison Keys vs Kiki Bertens: Power vs power. These two have blasted their way through the draw, with Bertens making the round of 16 by squeaking past future queen of clay Dasha Kasatkina 10-8 in the third set. Bertens is on fire, so Keys will need to keep her head in the match and not go through lulls. Predictions: Keys has been better in that department, so going with the American in three sets.
Also in action: Djokovic vs Roberto Bautista Agut, Serena Williams vs Elina Svitolina, Thiem vs Marcel Granollers, Goffin vs Ernests Gulbis, Carla Suarez Navarro vs Yulia Putintseva.