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Which ATP 'Next Gen' player will have the best career?

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Roar Rookie
5th July, 2019
2

One of the new marketing tools the ATP have promoted in recent years are the ‘Next Gen’ players.

It seems to have been pushed upon the ATP to come up with something exciting and flashy, as a way to hold the interest in tennis while the big three continue to dominate year after year. The ‘Next Gen’ players are generally considered to be the under 21’s, but for the sake of this piece, we’ll take a closer look at the under 23’s.

The initiative of ‘Next Gen’ definitely has merit. It is a platform to push the profile of the up and coming young stars, in a way that hasn’t been done in the past. The tennis public have every chance to watch the next generation come through the ranks to hopefully win multiple slams and create a new and exciting era of men’s tennis.

The problem has been, and continues to be, just how good are the next generation, and who will stand up to win a Grand Slam first?

After watching Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev crash out of Wimbledon in the first round this week, the same old calls get made. Will the young stars ever challenge the old guard? Are they good enough? Will tennis be boring once the big three retire?

Tsitsipas has only played nine main draw Grand Slams, so it got me thinking. Is that enough to get an indication of whether or not a player can go on to big things in the future?

We’re going to take a look at the first ten Grand Slams from the best players of this era, the previous era, and the next heneration, to see if we really can make any correlation.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the big three. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all reached at least a quarter-final twice in their first ten Slams. Nadal made three finals, and held two titles by the time he got through his first ten!

It’s probably arguable to say that Roger was the slowest starter of the three big guns, but even so, all of them reached at least the third round seven times.

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Player 1st Round 2nd Round 3rd Round 4th Round QF SF RU Winner
Nadal 3 3 1 1 2
Federer 3 3 2 2
Djokovic 2 1 3 2 1 1

Before we look at this generation of young players, we will go back further to the generation beforehand. Pete Sampras was bundled out in Round 1 or two seven out of ten times, but amazingly, he also won a US Open in his eighth Grand Slam.

Andre Agassi made two finals and three semi-finals, although the caveat with Andre is that he rarely played the Australian Open, or Wimbledon, meaning his first ten Slams were over a longer period.

Boris Becker, who famously won Wimbledon at 17 years of age, won two Grand Slams, made a semi final, and two quarter-finals from his first ten Slams. While Stefan Edberg won the Australian Open at just his eighth major.

Player 1st Round 2nd Round 3rd Round 4th Round QF SF RU Winner
Sampras 4 3 2 1
Agassi 3 1 1 3 2
Becker 2 1 2 2 1 2
Edberg 1 5 1 2 1

Looking at these seven champions of the game, it’s fair to say that although there were still plenty of early exits, every single one of them made some big impacts early in their Grand Slam career.

Now we analyse the eight under 23 players who are generally seen by the tennis fraternity as the next generation of players to dominate the sport.

A quick glance at the table below tells you very clearly that none of them have made much of a run in their first ten majors. The only player to make it past the fourth round is Stefanos Tsitsipas, who made it all the way to the semi-final of this year’s Australian Open.

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He is also the only player to have played fewer than ten Slams (nine).

Player 1st Round 2nd Round 3rd Round 4th Round QF SF RU Winner
Zverev 3 3 3 1
Tsitsipas 4 2 2 1
Coric 6 2 2
Shapovalov 2 3 2 1
De Minaur 4 3 3
Tiafoe 7 2 1
Khachanov 1 3 3 3
Medvedev 5 2 2 1

Zverev only once made it past Round 3, and every player here, bar one, has lost in the first or second round in at least 50 per cent of their first ten major tournaments.

That one player, is for me, the standout player of the new crop, and a player who doesn’t get mentioned often enough in my opinion. Karen Khachanov made it past Round 2 on six occasions, and into the fourth round three times. In his 11th Slam, he made the quarter-finals of Roland Garros. He is also into the third round of Wimbledon this week, and is clearly (based on this exercise), the most consistent performer at the Grand Slams of this young group.

One of the other seven may win a major before him, but I can’t help feeling that Khachanov has the biggest upside of the ATP Next Gen, and may go on to be the most successful.

As a footnote to this exercise, Nick Kyrgios made two quarter-finals in his first ten Slams, showing just how much talent he has at his disposal if he was willing to work as hard as others. The fact that he hasn’t been any further than those two quarter-final appearances since, is a shame for tennis.