Back in the day, players like Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, or Michael Chang made their breakthroughs at Grand Slam level very early, and soon became staple names on the tour for years to come. It’s arguably much tougher in the era of “Big 3/4” dominance. But with the upcoming US Open once again looking pretty open, it’s high time one of the “NextGen” players at least reached a Major final.
NextGen struggle on the biggest stage
Alexander Zverev won two ATP Masters 1000 titles in 2017, yet didn’t reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal before the 2018 French Open. Almost a year and a half later, the German still hasn’t progressed past that stage. At one point, the 22-year-old’s inability to reach the further stages of a major became a sort of a meme in the tennis community.
Statistically, the US Open is Zverev’s worst Slam. He has won just four total matches in four trips to Flushing Meadows. On top of that, with a rollercoaster of a season behind him, you shouldn’t expect the German to make that breakthrough now. The World No.6 is getting more and more unsure about his game and often resorts to moonballing from behind the baseline. His first serve is still a force to be reckoned with, but the second delivery has been ailing as well–in his recent loss to Miomir Kecmanovic in Cincinnati, Zverev committed 20 double faults. The German needs a mental reset, which can only be brought by a longer break or the off-season.
Player of the month
Daniil Medvedev will be the No.5 seed at this year’s US Open and he’s the player that Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer will be hoping to avoid in their sections of the draw. The 23-year-old Russian won 14 matches in the last three weeks, reaching consecutive finals at Washington (lost to Kyrgios), Montreal (lost to Nadal), and winning his maiden Masters 1000 trophy at Cincinnati (defeated Novak Djokovic and David Goffin).
Medvedev plays a tricky mixture of unbelievable serving, smart rallying ,and great defending. At the Western & Southern Open, he showcased insane mental toughness and the ability to risk it all when it matters. It seems like the Russian has to go deep at the US Open, but his Grand Slam results to date aren’t really convincing. He has one fourth round appearance, at the Australian Open this year, and just a 50% win-loss ratio. Medvedev has already reached six finals this year and should he fall to anyone besides the top three seeds, it would be a huge disappointment.
The one who almost did it
Out of the current NextGen “youngsters,” the one who has made it the farthest is Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek had a big run at the Australian Open, defeating Roger Federer in the fourth round and reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal.
Tsitsipas is a very complete player and would be a natural candidate to go deep at the US Open if it wasn’t for his recent results. Four out of his last six tournaments ended in the very first match. The Greek will surely have a lot of Grand Slam success in the future. Yet, at the moment, he’s simply out of form.
The Canadian duo
What about the two NextGen Canadians? Both Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov have the exact same problem: consistency. The latter hasn’t been to a Grand Slam fourth round since 2017 US Open, and there is a reason for that. Shapovalov plays a very high risk, high reward game. Although he is capable of linking together multiple good performances in a row, winning five, six, or seven best-of-five sets matches in one run seems pretty much impossible. Especially given how poorly he’s been playing lately.
Auger-Aliassime will be playing in just his third Grand Slam main draw. The Canadian has been stellar this year when it comes to smaller events, reaching three ATP finals and a Masters 1000 semifinal in Miami. At just 19 years old, he looks destined to become a future star of the sport, yet it would be foolish to expect him to suddenly be able to play his best tennis for the whole two weeks. His second serve needs revision and it can’t be done in a week.
Let’s draw conclusions
Dating back to the 2004 Australian Open, there have been 63 Grand Slam tournaments. All but four were won by “Big 3,” plus Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. That scale of dominance is something tennis has never experienced before, and it is undoubtedly much tougher to make a breakthrough when to win a Slam someone has to probably beat two of the best players ever.
Another issue–keeping up the standard of play required to beat Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer is much tougher in a best-of-five-sets match. These players shine at being incredibly consistent, making adjustments during a match, and have the ability to open up and go for broke when it matters. Sustaining a high level of play over the course of a three-hour match against one the big guns is too much to handle for the youngsters yet. Unless the draw opens and someone can avoid playing two or more Big 3 members, the NextGen might have to wait for a Grand Slam a little while longer.
Main Photo from Getty.