Who will be the first to win a Grand Slam title? #NextGen
There are a lot of talented young tennis players on the ATP World Tour including some who have already cracked the top 20. Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev, Lucas Pouille, Grigor Dimitrov, and Jack Sock are just some of the next generation talents that are 25 years or younger and are primed to have chances to win big tournaments. While none of them have reached a Grand Slam final, a couple have been to the semifinals. As time goes on, resulting in the further aging of the Big 4 and others at or near the top, these players will be highly ranked and be the most experienced contenders on tour along with 26 year-olds Milos Raonic and David Goffin. Here is the order of likeliness that one of these players will win a Grand Slam first:
No, the 21 year-old Australian phenom has not reached a Grand Slam semifinal before, but his growth over the past year and a half has seen him shoot up the rankings into the top 16. Kyrgios has improved his fitness noticeably after the Australian Open and has defeated the likes of Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev more than once this year. He is also rapidly improving his second serve and is showcasing his uncanny ability to make tough shots that are sometimes shocking for fans all over. Kyrgios wears his emotions on his sleeve and has made it obvious that although he has improved on the court in his craft, he still has room left to grow as a respectful competitor on the tennis court. I for one take no issue with the racquet slamming, the tirades, the cursing and the pleading to the chair umpire, but what is disrespectful to the sport is how Kyrgios can sometimes seem disengaged or uninterested in the match. At no point should an audience feel like their performer is not giving a good or full effort, and Kyrgios treads very close to this line. Although he’s close to crossing the line at times, Kyrgios’s brilliant serve success and his intensity when he plays against top-level competition, as shown in a clean sweep of Novak Djokovic this year, will make him a top challenger. Once he figures out his fitness over the course of a season and it results in success, Kyrgios’s positive energy will triumph over the negative and make him into a successful Grand Slam contender.
The young German star is ranked in the top 20 and has already won a title during the 2017 season, in Montpellier, France. He has shown tremendous grit in his short career with wins over Roger Federer & Stan Wawrinka, and has had two immensely close matches against Rafael Nadal. At the mere age of 19, Zverev has already hit the scene as the top youngster of the ATP #NextGen. There are countless other players under 20 that are extremely talented and have the chance to get to the top of the rankings, but none have put their game together quite like Zverev yet. Zverev has the full arsenal of shots and has been touted by other top players to be a sure-fire Grand Slam champion in the future. His forehand is bruising and he boasts a surprisingly heavy backhand that he manages to get deep in the court often. His 6’6’’ frame has contributed to his serve having immense pace already, and gives him the trajectory to improve a lot over the course of his career both speed and precision-wise. From his time playing with his brother and doubles in general, he also has a polished volley game that rarely sees blips like the one that could have won him his first career match against Rafael Nadal. Why I think Zverev has a likely chance of winning a Grand Slam is because his age, in comparison to other young players, will take off the pressure that a lot of young players face once they start to lose the first couple of times at major events. Zverev already almost broke through to the fourth round at the Australian Open, and will likely be ranked higher and have more momentum as the season carries on. His well-rounded game and big frame should make him a Grand Slam champion in the not too distant future.
The 23 year-old Austrian has reached one semifinal before at this past year’s French Open, but it’s the high-caliber strokes that would lead to Thiem being able to win a Grand Slam title. He won’t blow his opponent off the court with his serve, but his groundstrokes are some of the best in the game. Thiem ran into trouble during 2016 when he realized that he overworked himself by playing in too many tournaments, but still played well enough to secure a spot in London at the ATP World Tour Finals. His game is suited to deal with the heavy groundstrokes that a lot of the #NextGen players have. Whether it’s Zverev’s forehand, Kyrgios’s serve, or strokes like the Dimitrov backhand or Sock forehand, Thiem can pack the punch from the baseline. It’s what he can do otherwise that will deem whether or not he’s able to take the next step and win a Grand Slam title. As the only one in this group aside from Dimitrov that has entered the top 8 at some point, Thiem has year-end accolades that show his consistency, but also point to the growth he could see if he manages his time better. I believe that Thiem, who likes getting into long rallies, could shorten points more often and try to redirect pace quicker such that he puts his opponent into a compromising position before he has to be defensive. If Thiem can keep improving steadily and rebound well at the big events of 2017, he can use his top 8 ranking to catapult deep into a major and hopefully get a favorable draw.
The 25 year-old Bulgarian has reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam twice, once at Wimbledon in 2014 and this year at the Australian Open where he nearly took down Rafael Nadal in a nail-biting 5-setter. He has shown tremendous improvement over the past couple of months, starting the year arguably as the tour’s hottest player. Dimitrov, once hailed as “Baby Fed” and the next best thing on tour a handful of years’ back, is finally living up to the potential that many saw for him coming up. With his Federer-esque backhand and nearly identical service motion to Federer, Dimitrov has compiled a solid 17-4 record in 2017 and won two titles, one in Australia & one in his home country of Bulgaria. Dimitrov has gained some solid experience over time having been on the tour since 2008, and has inched back to that level that got him to the semifinals of Wimbledon when he beat Andy Murray in three sets. With his level of play against Nadal in the Australian Open and his promise going forward onto the grass and hard-court seasons, he could be a contender.
The 23 year-old Frenchman made a fantastic run at the US Open this past year taking out Rafael Nadal in an incredibly dramatic 5th set tiebreak. Pouille has a nice all-around game with groundstrokes that are on the same level as the top players and his statistics under pressure are in the top 4 of players on tour. He posts an incredible win percentage of tiebreaks at 71.4% that’s 3rd on tour, and also wins deciding sets at the same percentage. Pouille fell early in the Australian Open after heating up towards the end of the 2016 season, and has also struggled at times in the early going of 2017. With only an 8-7 record on the season, Pouille will need to get settled into the year soon. Going forward in Grand Slam matches this year, the Frenchman will need to understand that he can get deep into the draw given his performances at Wimbledon and the US Open this past year. His elegant style and groundstrokes will always allow him to have a shot. He has both the forehand and backhand strokes at a level where he can match with whoever is across the court.
The 24 year-old American is the top American in the world right now. He has a blazing fast forehand that has more rotations on it than the crazy-spin forehand generated by the Nadal forehand. Sock has a power game that makes up a lot for his less than high-caliber backhand. Although Sock has a pacey forehand that can blow the court wide open for him against his opponents, his backhand is at a level such that opponents can attack it and know that they can drag Sock into long rallies. That’s his one true downfall, but he makes up for it with a heavy serve and an exquisite volley game that he has developed proficiently over his time in mixed and regular doubles. Sock can bring out his serve and volley game at times more comfortably than top players, and that may have to be a key ingredient if he is going to go deep at a major event. Sock is the top American man for now, and spearheads a young American generation that is full of varying styles and physiques, sure to bring a craze back to USA in the upcoming years. If Sock can get his ranking into the top 10 in the near future, he may be able to get into a favorable draw and win his first major title, and the first by an American man since Andy Roddick.
David Goffin and Milos Raonic, both 26, are already contenders for Grand Slams. They are currently in their window of opportunity and will be threats over the next few years. In addition to them Kei Nishikori, 27, is the one who is surely the favorite outside of the Big 4 and Stan Wawrinka. Nishikori has made a final but is yet to make the ultimate breakthrough. In addition to those three, former US Open champion Marin Cilic has so far this year not looked like a threat. Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, and Tomas Berdych are all classic names up there, but not trusted so far to make proper Grand Slam breakthroughs. They have made finals collectively, but can’t seem to put it all together into victory. Juan Martin del Potro has now returned to the tour and is yet to show the level that won him the US Open title in 2009, but could rev up his backhand to the point where he can consistently beat top players on the tour, like how he beat Djokovic, Nadal, Wawrinka, and Murray last year. There are young players on tour that are coming up who are promising for the future like Borna Coric (who has been injured a lot), Karen Khachanov, Taylor Fritz, Yoshihito Nishioka, Frances Tiafoe, Jared Donaldson, Hyeon Chung, and Daniil Medvedev.
Nick Kyrgios will be the first to win a Grand Slam. His game is way too dynamic, and he’s already reached the top 15 in the rankings. The competition with these other young players will only propel Kyrgios, in my opinion, to rise to the occasion and start the new era of Grand Slam champions. With Zverev coming in at a close second, I firmly think that Kyrgios will be able to overcome his troubles and complete a deep run at either Wimbledon, the US Open, or the Australian Open.