The only thing permanent in the universe is change. A transition is the journey between two stages of change. And the world of tennis seems confused about this inevitability. They want it, and they don’t. They want the new generation to step up and start winning serious titles, but they don’t want their long time favorites losing —The Big 4, to be specific. 2016 witnessed some considerable improvement in the young generation of players who had notable improvement in many aspects of the game to garner serious attention. Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem, Lucas Pouille, Alexander Zverev among others have impressed in their short stints so far. As we look forward to this appealing change, we list down the youngsters to look forward to in the 2017 season.
The Inevitability of Change
DOMINIC THIEM, Age 23, (World no. 8)
Usually, one handed backhanders do not find clay as their favorite surface, but the young Austrian Dominic Thiem has amazed with his game on clay with a powerful and steady backhand. To add to that, he possesses a strong forehand and never shies away from long baseline exchanges. A powerful arm, solid core and gruesome training make him a crafted clay courter. But his success goes way beyond that. He has shown good variety in game to be successful on different surfaces.
In 2014 he became the youngest player to finish in the Top 50. Growing steadily in 2015, he was the youngest player in the Top 20 and reached a career best no. 18 by the virtue of titles at Gstaad, Umag and Nice.
2016, he clinched 3 titles on three different surfaces. Buenos Aires and Nice (clay), Stuttgart (grass) and Acapulco (hard). It is also a greatly appreciable fact that he defeated Nadal on clay and Roger Federer on grass. The most notable performance however, was his Semi-Final appearance in Roland Garros, where he lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
He has only improved his rankings and performances since 2011 when he turned pro. If he evenly balances his schedule in 2017, one can expect a hike in his rankings and titles tally. Clay season will be the part where he will be a dark horse for masters titles, but he is not meant to be under-estimated on any surface. Slower hard courts may also reap good rewards.
NICK KYRGIOS, Age 21 (World no. 13)
Controversial, punk and outspoken — immensely talented, future world no.1, best of his generation — these two contrasting sets of attributes belong to the enigmatic Aussie Nicholas Hilmy Kyrgios.
For all the good reasons, for all the bad reasons, Nick is the most talked about player in the NextGen batch, and in general. The Hip-Hop loving basketball fanatic with eyebrow raising haircuts has all the elements to make it big.
The 6’4” tall Aussie made a name post victory over then world no. 1, Rafael Nadal in the 4th round of Wimbledon 2014, which launched him to top 100 in the rankings for the 1st time at the age of 19. He finished the year as world no. 52. 2015 saw him improving and he even achieved a victory against 17 time slam winner Roger Federer in Madrid, eventually ending the year as world no. 30.
2016 was his best season, with him winning 3 titles (Marseille, Atlanta, Tokyo), recorded 6 Top 10 wins, and 1st QF and SF appearance in a masters 1000 series at Miami. He appeared in the second week of Wimbledon for the 3rd straight year and ended the season at a career best world no. 13.
The Aussie has all the elements in his game to become a world no. 1 and a slam winner. A heavy forehand, a gigantic serve and an aggressive mindset to dictate the game. His pattern of game is likely to earn him big success on hard and grass courts. He ranks 5th in the ATP Serve Stats Leader-boards, that speaks volumes about him
So, expect some hot matches from the lad this year. He is the player to watch out for in the Wimbledon and American Hard Court Swing, this could well be the year for his debut appearance in the season finale at the O2 arena in London.
LUCAS POUILLE, Age 22, (World no. 15)
The French have a rich tennis culture, with them being the very hosts of Roland Garros. After Richard Gasquet and Jo Wilfred Tsonga failed to deliver according to their potential, Lucas Pouille seems to be the new ray of hope for them. A steadily rising star who had a very prolific 2016, has got the tennis world talking.
He reached his first ATP final in 2016 at Bucharest. The Frenchman captured his 1st ATP World Tour title at Metz, defeating Dominic Thiem. He defeated del Potro in 4 sets and Tomic 10-8 in 5th to reach 1st Grand Slam QF at Wimbledon. He won 5-setters over Chiudinelli, Bautista Agut and No. 5 Nadal en route to US Open QF. He then went on to beat Gulbis and Ferrer to reach 1st ATP Masters 1000 QF and SF at Rome. He posted career best 34 tour level wins in the season. Pouille ended 2016 at a career best No. 15 and has improved year-end ranking by at least 55 spots in 5 straight seasons (2012-16)
These notable performances earned him the ATP Most Improved Player of the Year award for 2016. His style of play is not like a traditional French clay courter, but rather an American old school approach of being aggressive. His favourite surface is hard and he has developed a style accordingly. He takes the ball early and hits them hard to get deeper penetration into the court. His game strength lies in both forehand and backhand wings with ability to attack from either end.
One could expect some cracking tennis from this guy during the hard-court season, he could be knocking some big guns down.
ALEXANDER ZVEREV, Age 19, (World no. 24)
A 6’6” giant across the net is not a very common sight. That 6’6” giant is a teen who hits the ball hard and when you pull out the theory that these tall guys don’t move well, Alexander Sascha Zverev says Hi!
Is he a serious material though? The guy is ranked 24 and has peaked to world no. 20! The German has impressed right from his Junior career (96-35 record on ITF junior Circuit) and is looked upon as the Next Big Thing already. He was awarded as ATP Star Of Tomorrow in 2015 for finishing as the youngest player in Top 100.
The 2016 calendar speaks for the boy itself. He broke Wawrinka’s 11-match win streak in finals to capture 1st ATP World Tour title at 2016 St. Petersburg. He became the youngest ATP champion since Nishikori at 2008 Delray Beach and the 1st teen since Cilic at 2008 New Haven. He also reached finals in 2016 at Nice and Halle, where he became youngest player to defeat Federer since Nadal in 2005.
He has also enjoyed 10 wins vs. Top 20 opponents in 2016 with a haul of 44 wins in the season. He had a shot at 50 wins but called off his season early to prepare for the 2017 season. Clearly, he has his eyes set on bigger records and achievements.
A big serve, giant backhand and well constructed rally making form a strong resume’ for Sascha. He has plenty of strength which will only increase with age and more precision shall be there with time.
Slower surfaces suit his style the most. Although with a good serve he has already displayed some good tennis on grass as well. He is expected to have a balanced winning ratio along the year, across surfaces, could well pull off some big upsets on hard courts especially.
Other Notable Young Guns
BORNA CORIC, Age 20, (World no. 48)
Borna Coric from Croatia jumped to fame at the age of 17 with a victory over Rafael Nadal in the quarter final of Swiss Indoors, Basel, becoming the 1st player aged 17 since Nadal himself, to beat a Top 3 player.
He ended 2014 as the youngest player in top 100, peaking to no. 89, thus awarded by ATP as star of tomorrow. He cracked Top 50 as the youngest one in 2015, winning his second challenger title as well.
He reached his 1st ATP final at Chennai and became the 1st teenager to play a final since countryman Cilic in 2008. He again beat Nadal to reach Cincinnati QF. At 19 years, 9 months, became youngest ATP Masters 1000 quarter-finalist since Djokovic at 2006 Madrid.
Often criticised for being too passive, Coric made visible changes to his game in 2016 and played aggressive percentage tennis. His service improved well and his shots attained depth. He is likely to win his 1st ATP title in the coming season, maybe a couple more. He has his basic game built for clay, but with the change in his aggression, he could be unpredictable on any surface.
KYLE EDMUND, Age 21, (World no. 45)
Though his title tally or lack of wins against the big four may raise questions about his game, anybody that follows the game closely would be able to tell how effective his game is. The Brit is aggressive and has a punishing forehand. His favorite surface is clay but has also impressed with his run in 2016 US Open where he displayed old school attacking tactics.
His constant rise in rank do speak for him as he sits in the top 50 by the virtue of his ability to get through qualifications and early rounds. 2017 could well be the year where he makes a big name and breaks into Top 25. He is likely to succeed on clay, but he would like to replicate his performance from US Open.
KAREN KHACHANOV, Age 20, (World no.53)
Standing at a towering height of 6’6”, Khachanov is a big serving guy. Idolising fellow Russian Marat Safin and Juan Martin Del Potro, the Russian follows the latter in his approach with big serves and forehands. He won his first ATP Challenger series title at Istanbul and three Future Series titles in 2015.
In 2016, he broke into the top 100 and later in the season, won a title at Chengdu to reach a career best world no. 52. His favorite surfaces are indoor hard and clay. However, he has the potential to succeed on any fast surface. He might end up with two or three ATP titles by the end of the year.
2017 has already promised to be a thrilling year with the veterans having their own goals of continuing domination and comebacks while the guns look to stomp their authority and make a name for themselves.