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Tebbutt: Next-Gen report card

May 08, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt
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Making predictions in tennis, and in most sports, is a mug’s game: the definition of a mug being “an easily deceived person.” That’s not something anyone aspires to be.

The best tennis journalists over the past decades have been the dedicated, knowledgeable group at L’Equipe, the French sporting daily. During Roland Garros in 2013, they got together and produced a projection of what the top-10 in the ATP rankings would look like five years down the road in 2018.

We’re basically there now and here is the ranking they came up – with each player’s current ranking in brackets:

  1. Grigor Dimitrov (4)
  2. Benoit Paire (50)
  3. Andy Murray (39)
  4. Milos Raonic (24)
  5. Novak Djokovic (12)
  6. Kei Nishikori (20)
  7. Bernard Tomic (243)
  8. Ernests Gulbis (191)
  9. Jerzy Janowicz (184)
  10. Jack Sock (15)

At the time, L’Equipe also did a readers poll with the proviso “this is just a game, we repeat, this is just a game.” There were 7,016 responses and here’s how that turned out, with the percentages for each player in brackets: 1. Novak Djokovic (20%) 2. Grigor Dimitrov (18 %) 3. Benoit Paire (14%) 4. Andy Murray (13%) 5. Milos Raonic (8%) 6. (tied) Ernests Gulbis, Jerzy Janowicz and Kei Nishikori (6%) 9. Jack Sock (5%) and 10. Bernard Tomic (4%).

There’s one obvious conclusion to draw from these numbers – no one expected the current world No. 1 and world No. 2, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, just 26 and 31 respectively at the time, to be around five years in the future. Needless to say that was a giant miscalculation.

With the caveat that trying to divine the future of tennis players is unwise if not completely ridiculous, here’s a look at the most promising players in the world today and the chances they will make their mark in terms of winning Grand Slam titles, and maybe even becoming a dominant player.

In the age of social media and an obsession with players from a very young age, it’s doubtful the current emerging generation will produce players such as Grand Slam champions Federer (20), Nadal (16), Djokovic (12) and Serena Williams (23) who will be good enough, consistent enough and durable enough to even get to double figures in terms of career Grand Slam titles.

With that in mind, here’s a list of eight women and eight men from the younger generation – 24-and-under – who have the best chance to achieve big things in their tennis futures.

Beside each player is their age, current ranking, career-best ranking and, at the end, a grade from A to C gauging their chances of success.

WOMEN

Garbine Muguruza: 24 / 3 / 1. She looks the most likely to become a dominant player because she has already bagged two Grand Slam titles. But while the 6-foot Spaniard (above with Novak Djokovic at the ’17 French Open) is a good athlete and has all the shots, there’s something about her temperament that suggests she won’t get to the rarefied air of high single or double-digit Grand Slam titles: B+

Marta Kostyuk: 15 / 133 / 133.Turning 16 on June 28, the Ukrainian is the ‘it girl’ of the moment. In January she became the youngest player since Martina Hingis in 1996 to win a main draw match at the Australian Open. So far in 2018, she has won a $60,000 ITF event in Burnie (Australia), beaten two top-30 players and accumulated a match record at ITF, WTA, qualifying and Grand Slam tournaments of 24-7. A-

Photo credit: Mauricio Paiz

Jelena Ostapenko: 20 / 5 / 5. Like Muguruza she has already had Grand Slam success, but unlike the Spaniard she seems to have a more insatiable desire for more. Her reaching double digits in Slam titles is a long way away but she possesses the drive, and the time, to accumulate a few more: A-

(Odd stat here – although she just joined Twitter in January, the Latvian only has about 8,100 followers compared to Genie Bouchard with 1.7 million.)

Caroline Garcia: 24 / 7 / 7. One of the most flowing shot-makers on the WTA tour, Garcia has improved her ranking every single year for nine years – from No. 681 in 2009 to No. 8 in 2017. She finished last year strong winning titles in Wuhan and Beijing and reaching the semi-finals (Venus Williams) of the WTA Finals. While she has struggled with back problems, her tennis is still on an upward trend. B

Madison Keys: 23 / 14 / 7. The powerful American is an enigma. The talent is there and she might already have won a Slam in last year’s US Open final if she hadn’t had a thigh injury. But, besides the injuries that have plagued her career, there hasn’t always seemed to be a resolve and commitment equal to her talent. Still, players mature later nowadays and she could certainly be one of them: B-

Marketa Vondrousova: 18 / 68 / 50. Sharing a June 28th birthday with Kostyuk, Vondrousova is three years older but already has a WTA title – Biel (Switzerland) in April, 2017. At 5-foot-6, she’s a penetrating pounder of the ball who has beaten two world No. 11s in 2018 – Julia Goerges and Johanna Konta. Counting WTA qualifying, the left-handed Vondrouska’s record in 2018 is 13-9. B-

Photo credit: Mauricio Paiz

Amanda Anisimova: 16 / 156 / 126 An American with a Russian-sounding name, Anisimova’s parents were born in Moscow but she was born in New Jersey. At 5-foot-11, she has a strong presence on court and upset No. 9-ranked Petra Kvitova in Indian Wells. So far in 2018 at ITF and WTA events she has a 10-3 record. Anisimova has not played since withdrawing with a foot injury from a second-round Miami Open match against Muguruza in March. B

Naomi Osaka: 20 / 21 / 21: The 5-foot-11 Japanese, who grew up in Florida, is a power-packed player. She showed just how good she can be during seven victories in Indian Wells, including wins over Maria Sharapova (41), Agnieszka Radwanska (32), Karolina Pliskova (5), Simona Halep (1) and Daria Kasatkina (19). At times a little too emotional, can she find lightening in a bottle often enough to win a Slam or Slams? B-

Photo credit: Pascal Ratthé/Tennis Canada

Bianca Andreescu: 17 / 207 /143. Turning 18 on June 16th, the Canadian is a fine ball-striker and savvy match player. She can compete with the best and in Fed Cup this year has stretched No. 37-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu to three sets in February and led No. 41 Lesia Tsurenko 6-4, 3-1 before leg cramps eventually forced her to retire last month in Montreal. She also reached two $25K ITF finals in Japan in April. There may be a home country bias here, but Andreescu’s spirit and grit can take her a long way. C+

There are a lots of players not mentioned here – names like Svitolina, Bouchard, Kasatkina, Barty, Dolehide, Bencic, Aiava, Vekic, Blinkova, Sabalenka, Pera and Kontaveit who may, long term, win as many Grand Slams as the players chosen above. But remember, as was written in L’Equipe, “this is just a game.”

MEN

Photo credit: Miami Open presented by Itau

Sascha Zverev: 21 / 3 / 3. It’s shocking that Zverev has a Grand Slam best performance of one round-of-16 for his 11 appearances. His forehand can be shaky at crucial junctures and he will have to shore up that deficiency if he’s going to make the final leap. Still, at 6-foot-6 and with loads of game, he logically should be the first to break through – even though that’s not always the way things work out. A-

Dominic Thiem: 24 / 7 / 4.The oldest of this whole group, the Austrian’s only results past the round-of-16 in 17 Grand Slams are two semi-finals – 2016-17 at Roland Garros.

There’s a sense that he has stagnated and won’t be a multi-Slam winner, especially as long as Nadal is barring the door on his favourite surface – clay. But Thiem certainly has a shot at winning one. B

Nick Kyrgios: 23 / 23 / 13. If they were handing out Grand Slam titles based on raw talent, the 6-foot-4 Aussie would be at the head of the line. It’s magical all the things he can do on the court and maddening he hasn’t figured out how to do them more consistently. With his body – elbow, knee, hip back etc. – frequently betraying him, his future remains as cloudy as a rainy day in Canberra. C+

Borna Coric: 21 / 35 / 28. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Those famous words from Mark Twain describe the ambitious Croat. A tenacious competitor capable of covering a lot of court, there are times when it looks like he can be overwhelmed – as in his 6-4, 6-4 loss to Zverev in Miami. But his willingness to grind might be enough to get him a Grand Slam singles trophy some day. C-

Denis Shapovalov: 19 / 43 /42. Sometimes the brilliant all-court game of the Canadian lefty can seem almost too good to be true. He has all the shots – including that breath-taking one-handed backhand – to allow him to reach the top of the game. But the path to Grand Slam glory is fraught with adversity and he will surely have to overcome a few challenges before achieving his ultimate goals. A

Stefanos Tsitsipas: 19 / 40 / 40. Eight months older, the stylish, slightly gangly Greek looked vulnerable when he lost to Shapovalov 6-1, 6-3, 7-6(5) in the first round of this year’s Australian Open. His recent success on European clay – including a 6-3, 6-4 win over Shapovalov in Monte Carlo – has shown that he’s a potent emerging force. Both players have certifiable on-court charisma – a huge plus for tennis. A-

Frances Tiafoe: 20 / 56 / 56. With a powerful, loopy forehand and a backhand that can be a liability, the muscular American has an individual style that may allow him to have success doing it his way. His recent performances on both hard courts and clay suggest he may be able to make it to the top with results spread over the entire year. Right now he’s the best bet among Americans to eventually win a Slam title. C-

Photo credit: Mauricio Paiz

Félix Auger-Aliassime: 17 / 189 / 153. Pals with Shapovalov, there’s an ongoing debate in the tennis circles about which of the two will eventually be the better player. Auger-Aliassime, close to 6-foot-4, has the height advantage over the 6-foot Shapovalov. But the latter has the wild card of being left-handed and having a game with more finesse. At 16 months younger, Auger-Aliassime has the time and the firepower to catch up. B+

As with the women, there are several others who could who could have been mentioned here – including Pouille, Chung, Rublev Medevedev and Khachanov.

Shapovalov on the move

Denis Shapovalov defeated Benoit Paire 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4 on Tuesday at the Madrid Open to advance to the third round and a meeting with either his compatriot Milos Raonic or tournament third seed Grigor Dimitrov.

The victory over the No. 50-ranked Frenchman will move Shapovalov’s ranking up to approximately No. 38.

That means he passes Greg Rusedski – No. 41 in July, 1994 – and now has the third highest Canadian ranking in the 45-year history of ATP rankings. He is behind Raonic, No. 3 in November, 2016, and Vasek Pospisil, No. 25 in January, 2014.

It also means that he has a chance, with another win or two in Madrid, or possibly next week in Rome, to be among the 32 seeds for the French Open, which begins on May 27th.

Joltin Genie Bouchard

Athletes are often good at more than one sport. Here Genie Bouchard takes a few good cuts – from either side of the plate.