There were several interesting storylines on the ATP Tour last week, but perhaps none as potentially impactful for the sport as the performances of the rising generation of young tennis players.
First, and most importantly for American tennis, the Californian teenager Taylor Fritz reached the final of the ATP stop in Memphis. A wildcard to the event, to get to the final the majority of the players he defeated were ranked higher that he, including second seed Steve Johnson. Fritz’s run puts him in an elite category of American players who have reached a tour-level final in the past 30 years while still 18, including Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras. Fritz’s performance is evocative of Roddick, who transitioned seamlessly from juniors to the pro tour and won the U.S. Open at age 21. Though Fritz lost 6-4, 6-4 in the final to Kei Nishikori, this result bodes well for his career and for the future of American tennis. Ranked outside the top 900 a year ago, Fritz will now close in on the top 100.
Alexander Zverev, a German 18 year-old, made his breakthrough at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, an ATP event in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Zverev, one of several young players who have made an impact on tour, defeated third seed Gilles Simon in a third set tiebreak in the round of 16. This win was a high moment in Zverev’s young career, in addition to his win over Marin Cilic last week, as he has steadily been making his way through the rankings. He is currently 70th in the world. However, Zverev lost to Gael Monfils, who in turn lost to Martin Klizan in the championship match. Improbably, Klizan saved match points in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches and rode his huge forehand and escape tactics to the title and a 6-7(1), 6-3, 6-1 victory over Monfils.
At the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires, another young player, Dominic Thiem, won the title. Thiem, at 22 the youngest player in the top 20, saved a match point in a win over Rafael Nadal in the semifinals and defeated Nicolas Almagro 7-6(2), 3-6, 7-6(4) to claim the championship. Almagro is a former top 10 player who has fallen out of form over the past season. However, this day was about Thiem, who is undefeated on tour in deciding tiebreakers.
Men’s tennis is reaching a crucial turning point. The players who have dominated the past decade of play—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray—are reaching or are already in their thirties. Though laughably young in most endeavors, tennis players often retire in their mid-thirties. Interestingly, it seems that there is already another generation rising to take the place of the older players. Thiem, Zvrev and Fritz, along with Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios of Australia, Hyeon Chung of Korea, and Borna Coric of Croatia, are defeating top players and are themselves burning up the rankings. Fans should keep a keen eye on this group of players this season and in the next few years. The torch will soon be passed if it hasn’t been already.
This week the ATP Tour will move on to events in Marseille, Rio de Janeiro, and Delray Beach. The South American swing is in full effect, but players will need their hard-court legs underneath them as the tour leads up to the event in Indian Wells next month.