The wait for the next generation of ATP stars has ostensibly – and somewhat ironically – been the fault of its current crop of household names. While a wave led by Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, and Grigor Dimitrov has been able to notch occasional wins over the ATP’s “Big Four,” the group has failed to successfully launch to the top.
This “lost” generation – constant challengers of a golden-age hegemony – has escaped the focus of the media, who remain keen for a young superstar to announce his presence on the Tour.
Alas, the shock-and-awe method of young-gun generations past has been too often forsaken by the longevity of ATP’s top names – Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer – who, quite simply, just win everything. Instead, an even younger generation has begun to come in; much like the tide, these youngsters are a slow wave, coming in and out to slowly change the landscape of the shore.
The Masters 1000 stop in Miami has always been known for its liberal allocation of wild cards to young international players. Unlike most tournaments that favor players of a homegrown flavor, this Fifth Slam (or is it Sixth Slam?) peppers its draw with fresh faces, pulling forward the tide of the next generation ever so slightly on one of tennis’ biggest stages.
This week on #SaturdayNightShots we’ll be profiling a few of the young men who have made the most of their opportunities in Miami – and the shots that make them viable contenders as the ATP’s next generation.
Borna CORIC (CRO)
Much has already been said about the young Croat, whose game has been likened to World No. 1 Djokovic. He moves well, plays a neatly aggressive baseline game, and has already notched wins over Nadal and Murray.
Backhand – Definitely the more fluid shot in his arsenal of weapons. It can redirect pace as easily as it can generate it. Coric can hit both cross-court and down the line aggressively off this wing and has implemented occasional slice to add variety and build a transition game.
Movement – While not at Djokovician levels of hard court flexibility, Coric moves well and efficiently. His ability to defend parallels his ability to attack, rounding out his game and giving him different options for different opponents.
Forehand – While Coric has the physical power to make use of his forehand side, the shot tends to break down under pressure – much unlike his comparative model. The shot rallies more than it dictates, and isn’t yet the weapon he needs it to be to produce consistent results against the best players.
Hyeon CHUNG (KOR)
Chung has been steadily moving up the rankings through a string of Futures and Challenger wins – and it appears he’s ready to graduate onto the ATP World Tour. The bespectacled South Korean demonstrated surprising strength and exceptional anticipation in winning his first ever ATP match in Miami, and fought well in a second round loss to Tomas Berdych.
Backhand – Chung’s backhand is, by far, his money shot; he has an extremely early preparation in his swing and can drill it unpredictably to any corner of the court. He defends and passes exceptionally off this wing – although plays it with slightly less margin than fellow ATP Rising Star™ Coric.
Forehand – While some might argue that this shot is a bit of a “miss,” it has flashes of brilliance, making it hard to ignore. Chung’s forehand has a bit of a hitch in the swing and has a bit more wrist than traditional versions of the shot, but it can come up with absurd angles and injections of power, making it a discreet weapon if it’s not misfiring.
Serve – Chung’s serve, while not terrible, is certainly his greatest liability. He’s comfortable to rally against most opponents, so the serve might not be his most practices shot. It’s characterized by spin over placement or pace, making it a safe option but rarely a potent one.
Andrey RUBLEV (RUS)
The current junior World No.1 has made fewer strides at the professional level than the other young guns on this list – although he’s only 17, so much can still be forgiven. The Russian has a stylish game that has seen him make much junior success, and his first round win over Pablo Carreno Busta in Miami shows that he might just be ready for higher level success.
Forehand – The Rublev forehand is a cutting, sword-like shot with a deceptive amount of spin. The backswing is short and quick, making the shot itself difficult to read. Rublev, unlike the other young players on this list, prefers to dictate with his forehand, usually to great effect. If he manages to improve his footwork, this shot might be one that tennis fans will be seeing quite a bit of in the future.
Variety – The flashy Russian has a wide array of tools at his disposal, most noteworthy being a slice off both wings. While topspin is the primary game plan, he can slice his backhands and forehands in defensive positions, as well as chip in a few well-disguised dropshots.
Strength – Rublev has all the technical variety needed to make an impact in the game, but is still, quite visibly, a lanky teenager. More time in the gym will culminate in harder, more penetrating shots, and the ability to move around his backhand to hit more forehands.
Alexander ZVEREV (GER)
This gangly German junior champion announced himself on tour last year in Hamburg with an exceptional run to the semifinals, displaying the scrappy tenacity seldom seen in the taller players. He possesses a predictably large serve but an unpredictably counterpunchy game, making his way through qualifying into the second round of Miami.
Movement – Zverev’s movement is startlingly good for a player of his height. While his court positioning is occasionally too far behind the baseline, he possesses uncanny speed, defending almost better than he attacks.
Backhand – Certainly Zverev’s more comfortable wing. He has quite a bit of feel, and can redirect pace brilliantly down the line. He gets consistent depth and it seldom breaks down on defense.
Serve – He’s 6’6, so naturally his serve has put him ahead of his class. While Zverev is the same age as Rublev, he’s nearly 200 places higher in the rankings; having a top notch serve has helped his cause significantly.
Forehand – The grip on his forehand is extremely western, and feel off of this wing isn’t as pronounced as it is on his backhand. Zverev has the tendency to overhit and, on lower bouncing surfaces, he struggles to both attack and defend with it. While the winners may look nice, some of the errors this shot is able to leak are stunning, to say the least.
Which of these young prospects is primed for the most success? Sound off in the comments!