We’ve long talked about the NextGen, those upcoming players whose destiny is to be World #1. Not all have found that talked about status, and some have been waylaid by injury or players their better. But, these four teens are becoming the bane of many a champion’s existence. Surely they’ll spoil many a champion’s chances in their own quests for titles. I predict these teenagers will one day see World #1 next to their name.
Felix Auger-Aliassime – 18 years old
Less than two years a pro, 18-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime has made a name for himself on the ATP Tour. With big point tournaments coming up, expect Auger-Aliassime’s ranking to climb from his current World #58 to the Top 20. Auger-Aliassime had not yet played a Top 10 player until the 2019 BNP Paribas. Unfortunately, 20-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas was his first Top 10 opponent … and Felix’s first Top 10 win. In his post-match press conference he said he was familiar with Tsitsipas’ game. “Having played him and also beat him in Juniors helped,” he said. Looking ahead at his Indian Wells run, he’ll play either #21 seed Bautista Agut or Japan rising star Yoshihito Nishioka. Auger-Aliassime already has experience against Nishioka, telling us “I played Nishioka when I was 14.”
In the last few weeks, Auger-Aliassime has blossomed before our eyes, finding the confidence which was the only element lacking in his game. Incredible core strength and balance allow him to hit winners when pushed into uncomfortable positions. He has a keen sense of strategy, able to course correct in real time. Strategic, powerful and mature, he’s a player who is not fazed by opponents’ power or consistency. They say boys can’t play with men. Well, Felix Auger-Aliassime can.
Amanda Anisimova – 17 years old
Making her presence known on the WTA tour is 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova. Her effortless power and Hingis style ability to change direction have allowed her to defeat some of the WTA Tour’s Top 10 players. In 10 tournament appearances in 2018, she advanced to the round of 16 six times, including a semifinal appearance at the 2018 BNP Paribas in Indian Wells. This year’s appearance didn’t see her fare so well. In straight sets, she lost to Elise Mertens. Her disappointment was obvious.
Anisimova seems unfazed on some of the World’s biggest stages, annihilating Angelique Kerber at the 2019 Australian Open. Yet, her greatest successes seem to come against players whose games are more defensive, Belorussian Aryna Sabalenka notwithstanding. Power players can cause her frustration. And, that frustration seems to follow her point after point. The ebbs and flows bother her more than most. She will need some maturity to gain the Sharapova-like ability to forget the last point and command the next. It’s easy to forget she’s just 17 and a year and a half ago, she was playing and winning Juniors. The WTA Tour is a different league and here is where she’s yet to find consistency. She is undoubtedly a champion in the making, and we’ll see her champion this game … after she matures just a bit.
Dayana Yastremska – 18 years old
Ukranian teen Dayana Yastremska is experiencing that start of a great tennis career. Still in the ups and downs on the WTA tour, she has the promise of greatness. A strong all-court game, she’s a committed competitor. Yet, she’s a teenager, one who cried when she played and lost to Serena Williams at the Australian Open. “I would not say that Serena Williams is my idol, but she is a tennis legend. I played against her at the Australian Open and I still have a lot to learn”, said Yastremska.
While she says ranking is not the priority, she’s happy to get into the Top 40. Yastremska is a strong, clean ball striker who looks to be a smart player. She appreciates the ability to stay aggressive but at the same time remain very calm. As she gains more experience, she’ll move past the disappointing matches. In her opening round in Indian Wells, she fell to 25-year-old Russian Daria Gavrilova in three sets. Next up for Yastremska is Miami. With few points to defend and point-rich tournaments on the horizon, we’ll watch her climb up the rankings ladder. From her current rank of 37, I expect her to end the year #19.
Denis Shapovalov – 19 years old
Denis Shapovalov is one of the future greats in the game. Soon he’ll leave behind his teens when he turns 20 next month. For now, he remains a teenage threat to any player. Currently ranked World #25, Shapovalov has made some of the most difficult shots look easy.
The Independent last year called him the “biggest teen sensation since Bjorn Borg.” With Bjorn-like style, Denis Shapovalov handled his meteoric rise. He’s known for his forceful forehand and an all-court game. He frequently interacts with the crowds, making them feel like his wins are theirs. “I feel like I play my best tennis when there’s a lot of people watching. That’s why I love engaging with the fans as well,” Shapovalov told the Independent in a July 2018 interview.
Shapovalov loves the big stage and it seems to feed his talent. His lightning quick speed around the court and flashy game will keep the crowds coming to see him. Popularity alone does not make a champion. It’s his shot making and his ability to open up the court, to find the spot where his opponent isn’t – those are the qualities that will help this teen reach his Top 10 status.