The US Open will see the usual suspects battle it out for glory. Rafael Nadal is aiming to defend his title, Novak Djokovic looks to continue his winning momentum from the Cincinnati Masters and Roger Federer is seeking his first New York title for ten years. But what about their younger opponents?
In recent years the ATP, who governs men’s tennis, has promoted the rising stars of the game through their ‘Next Generation’ campaign. An initiative applied to players under the age of 21 who are ranked in the world’s top 200. Last year saw the birth of the ATP NextGen finals. An end-of-year showdown for players in that age group with a prize money poll of $1.275 million.
"It looks like the next generation has broken through even more so now. They still need the win of a slam, the win of a Masters 1000, whatever you want to call it, they still need to make that step," Federer told reporters in Next York about the Next Generation contingent.
"But they're definitely knocking on that door and there is some exciting talent around."
One of the biggest contenders for the US Open trophy from that age group is Germany’s Alexander Zverev. A player who has already claimed 9 ATP titles, including three at Masters level. Zverev heads into the grand slam under the guidance of newly appointed advisor Ivan Lendl. Lendl, who won eight grand slam titles himself, was the former coach of Andy Murray.
“I'm doing everything I can to make it be.” The world No.4 commented about the possibility of winning a major title.
“I'm trying to play my best tennis here in New York, which I've never really done before. I've never really played the best tennis here. I'm trying to change that. I'm trying to change it this year. Hopefully it will work out that way.”
Despite his potential and success, Zverev’s record in grand slams is far from spectacular. He has managed to reach the quarter-finals of a major only once in 13 attempts. At the US Open, he is yet to make it beyond the second round.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has already achieved a series of milestones for Greek tennis at the age of 20. He is the first male player from his country to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon and the first to break into the world’s top 20. Within the past 12 months Tsitsipas has surged from a ranking of 161st to a current best of 15th in the world.
“He's definitely one of the leaders of NextGen without a doubt, especially this season. He's had some terrific results and terrific wins.” Djokovic said following his loss to the world No.15 earlier this year.
“He's showing a lot of commitment, a lot of discipline. He's putting in the hours in the gym, on the tennis court, and it's paying off.”
It was at the Rogers Cup earlier this month where Tsitsipas scored his first significant breakthrough. Defeating four top 10 players in a row - Dominic Thiem, Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson. He lost in the final to Nadal.
Denis Shapovalov’s best run is a grand slam was at the US Open last year where he reached the last 16. The Canadian is yet to win an ATP title, but has illustrated his talent on the tour. Shapovalov burst onto the main stage of tennis last year when he defeated Nadal in Montreal. Since then, he is yet to score another top-10 scalp. Although he has reached the semifinals of both the Madrid Masters and Delray Beach Open so far this season.
"I’m physically stronger, mentally stronger, everything’s gotten better," Shapovalov told The Canadian Press ahead of the US Open.
“I feel a lot more relaxed. Last year was about me backing up my results at the Rogers Cup and I had to qualify so there was a lot of pressure.”
Shapovalov begins his bid against another star from the Next Generation, Felix Auger-Aliassime. 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime is currently ranked 117th in the world and will be making his grand slam debut.
Other members of the Next Generation to look out for is Borna Coric, Alex de Minaur and Andrey Rublev. All three of those players have previously claimed at least one ATP trophy. Coric has won two tour titles, including this year’s Halle Open in Germany and Tiafoe triumphed at the Delray Beach Open in February. Meanwhile, Rublev reached the last eight of the tournament 12 months ago.
The youngest man to have ever won the US Open in the Open Era was Pete Sampras at the age of 19 years and 28 days in 1990.
This year’s US Open will get underway on Monday.
The top 10 Next Generation players (as of August 26th 2018)
Alexander Zverev GER (WR 4)
Stefanos Tsitsipas GRE (WR 15)
Borna Coric CRO (WR 20)
Denis Shapovalov CAN (WR 28)
Andrey Rublev RUS (WR 38)
Frances Tiafoe USA (WR 44)
Alex de Minaur AUS (WR 45)
Taylor Fritz USA (WR 74)
Jaume Munar ESPN (WR 85)
Jared Donaldson USA (WR 90)
Note: WR = current world ranking