A busy week in the tennis world ended up being a notable one for a trio of the sport’s brightest young stars.
The WTA had a strong field in Tokyo, despite the event being relegated down a level in importance in 2014. With defending champion Aga Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza, U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys and other big names in the draw, the final ended up featuring a couple of surprises despite featuring in-form players.
The title match saw Caroline Wozniacki topping teenager Naomi Osaka in the final, 7-5, 6-3, Wozniacki’s first title of the season and Osaka’s first career final. Though the final was of iffy quality (before a late rally, Osaka crumbled after letting the sight of Wozniacki’s leg issues break her rhythm; Wozniacki had a championship point when Osaka served at 0-5 in the second), Wozniacki carried over her strong form from a U.S. Open semifinal run for her 24th career title, fourth among active players.
Despite a second ugly collapse this month (Osaka led Keys 5-1 in the third set at the U.S. Open before losing), Osaka continues to reinforce why she’s one of the sport’s top young prospects, as just getting this far is impressive for a not-yet-19-year-old in this era, especially considering her path to the final including beating Misaki Doi, Dominika Cibulkova and Elina Svitolina.
Backing up his quarterfinal showings at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, 22 year old Lucas Pouille won his first career ATP title, upsetting Dominic Thiem in the final, 7-6 (5), 6-2. Thiem led the tiebreaker 4-0 before Pouille came up better in the clutch, followed by Thiem playing a rather careless and error-filled second set.
Pouille pulled off the same kind of win over David Goffin on Saturday in the semifinals, winning a tiebreaker before rolling in the second set. The Frenchman will rise to a career-high 16th and has positioned himself to finish 2016 in the 12-14 range.
Although Thiem made another final in this breakout campaign, his sixth of the year, he leaves France without adding a title or a single ranking point. Because the Austrian has played so many tournaments (he’s now played 73 matches this year), he’s nearly maxed out his countable events. With six “free choice” slots for non-majors or Masters, Thiem has a 500 title in Acapulco and three 250 titles in Buenos Aires, Nice and Stuttgart, plus 180 points from semi showings at the 500s in Rio and Halle. Thus, the 150 points he earned from the final here (and in Munich) are not currently countable.
Thiem admitted his heavy scheduling had a taken a toll…and then added to a light fall program. This was the first of four straight tournaments for him, as he’ll go to Chengdu next week for the inaugural 250 event there.
ATP St. Petersburg
Having not dropped serve all tournament and not lost a final since 2013, Stan Wawrinka had to be considered the heavy favorite coming into the final against Sascha Zverev, and after coming from a set down to lead 3-0 in the third, Wawrinka looked like he was about to finish the job. Instead, the duel of faltering forehands saw Zverev manage his a bit better, as the young Russian won seven of the final nine games to win his first ATP title.
Alexander Zverev! pic.twitter.com/CMQvmegSpj
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) September 25, 2016
Zverev became the first teenager to win an ATP title since Marin Cilic in 2008 and replaces Nick Kyrgios as the youngest active player to have won a title. He’ll return to his career-high ranking of 24, with only 50 points separating him from the four players in front of him. Zverev also rises to 19th in the year-to-date standings.
After initially taking a wild card to play in Tokyo, Juan Martin del Potro has pulled out of the 500 event. Considering his workload in the Davis Cup semifinals and that he now has the final to play in November, it’s probably a wise move for his health.