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ATP Tennis In Paris • Next Gen Stride On From Richard Evans

Alexander Zverev of Germany in action during his third round match against Diego Schwartzmann (unseen) of Argentina at the Rolex Paris Masters tennis tournament in Paris, France, 01 November 2018. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON
Alexander Zverev of Germany in action during his third round match against Diego Schwartzmann (unseen) of Argentina at the Rolex Paris Masters tennis tournament in Paris, France, 01 November 2018.  EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

 

There is no more fascinating question to pose on the ATP Tour right now than this: Who, amongst the army of young talent on the march towards the top of the game, will become the most prolific winner and end up with the most successful career?

Sascha Zverev, the tall, handsome German, is the obvious pick at the moment with his collection of ATP Masters 1000 titles – 3 to date – and he looked the part again here today in the third round of the Rolex Paris Masters with an untroubled 6-4, 6-2 victory over the steadily improving Argentine, Diego Schwartzman. But despite having reached a ranking high of No 3 in the world last year, Zverev still has to produce his best at Grand Slam level. Just one quarter final showing does not do justice to his ability.

But there are least half a dozen others who seem capable of creating a super star career for themselves, including the powerhouse of a Russian, Karen Khachanov who extended his winning record over John Isner today, beating the American for the third straight time, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6. The pair have played a total of nine sets – four on clay at the French Open – and seven of them have been decided in the tie-break.

This time, Khachanov had to survive two match points in the deciding breaker which he finally managed to snatch with a cracking backhand winner up the line by 10 points to 8. The defeat means that Isner’s hopes of the making the ATP Finals in London now depend on at least two players pulling out.

At 25, Dominik Thiem is a little older than the Next Gen group we are discussing here and he used that extra dose of maturity to outlast another player of huge potential, Borna Coric 6-7, 6-2, 7-5. Coric, who, for my money, created the biggest upset of the year by beating Roger Federer on grass in the final of Halle just before Wimbledon, led 3-1 in the final set before he tried to hit too hard and lost his rhythm. But that was not the end of it. Thrilling a huge crowd of over 15,000, Thiem fought back to lead 4-3 only to have his serve broken again. But more Coric errors off his suspect forehand cost him in the end.

At just 21, Coric has made a huge jump to 13 on the ATP computer and with his impressive physique and big serve, obviously has the ability to dominate on more surfaces than the clay he grew up on in Croatia. Federer on grass? I had to read that result three times before I believed it.

The other surprise package of the year has been the Greek, Stefanos Tsitsipas who defeated a bunch of top ranked players to reach the final at the Canadian Open and then won his first ATP title at the Stockholm Open last week. With little time to recover, Tsitsipas went down 6-3, 6-3 in his first match here at Bercy to Damir Dzumhur but the 21-year-old appears to have all the tools to continue on his rapid rise to the top.

Dzumhur, disappointingly, could not capitalize and was forced to retire hurt at 6-1, 6-1 to Novak Djokovic.

So, we have Zverev, Coric, Tsitsipas and Khachanov but that is not all. There are two more Russians, Daniil Medvedev who relies less on power and more on court craft, who lost to Coric after beating Pablo Carreno Busta 6-2, 6-2 in the first round here and his slender 21-year-old compatriot Sergey Rublev who has been hampered by injury this year but will surely make use of his all round skills once he is fully fit again.

Then you can add the powerfully built South Korean, Hyeon Chung, who won the ATP Next gen Finals in Milan a year ago, defeating Canada’s Denis Shapovalov who has the personality as well as the game to make a real name for himself. The other teenager in the pack, Australia’s Alex de Minaur, has proved himself remarkably resilient against much higher ranked players and is now considered a threat to anyone.

Two Americans complete this bunch of champions-in-waiting, Frances Tiafoe, who defeated Juan Martin del Potro on his way to winning his first ATP title at Delray Beach in February and Taylor Fritz, son of two pro players, who has climbed to No 49 off the back of a third round showing at the US Open.

There is more talent amongst this group than I have seen from any Next Gen group that has preceded it but who is going to end up with the most success? I think I would put Zverev and Tsitsipas at the top of the pack with Khachanov and Shapovalov right behind them. It’s going to be fun finding out.

Meanwhile, Jack Sock, whose career is difficult to classify, won another match in a canter, blasting Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 6-0, 6-4. It must be something in the Parisian air. Despite winning Wimbledon and US Open doubles titles with Mike Bryan, Sock has barely been able to buy a singles win all year but now, as he said, “I’m feeling like my real self again.” He will need keep hold of that feeling on Friday when he meets Thiem in the quarter finals. The 26 year old American came into this tournament ranked 23 on the ATP computer but with a mass of points he will not be able to defend in London, a loss to Thiem could see him in danger of falling out of the top hundred.

After a busy day, the evening session started with Roger Federer getting a standing ovation for outplaying Italy’s Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-3. Why? Because he’s Roger Federer and, having opted out of the last two French Opens, the Parisians were happy to see him again.

Federer, chasing his 100th career title, may find life harder against Kei Nishikori on Friday. With Kevin Anderson having already qualified for London, Nishikori, still banging on the door, had the greater incentive in the last match of the evening and beat the South African 6-4, 6-4.

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