As the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal still seem to dominate a new wave of players are emerging. Now known as the ‘next gen’, players such as Alexander Zverev (20), Denis Shapovalov (18) and Daniil Medvedev (21), alongside many others, are seeming to challenge these established legends and are bringing an impressive new depth to the men’s game. By producing stunning tennis and shocking defeats they seem set for the future, but there is no escape from criticism for these youngsters, as they face a steep learning curve and great controversy.
One of many ‘next gen’ players is Daniil Medvedev, who demonstrated how much of a danger he is after defeating Stan Wawrinka in the first round of Wimbledon, completing his first ever Grand Slam win. This victory was short lived however, as he fell to Bemelmans in a big controversy. The five set match, which involved an ill-tempered request to remove the umpire, ended in a bizarre way, as he threw coins at the bottom of the umpires chair. Questions over the meaning of this were immediately raised. Was he accusing her of bias? His answer: no. Medvedev apologised profusely in his post match interview, denying any hidden meaning to his actions, but it is hard to rule this out when taking previous incidents into account. When playing Donald Young in the Savannah Challenger he was disqualified for insinuating that the umpire was impartial because of her race. He was heard stating that ‘I know that you are friends. I am sure about it’. While mistakes must be expected his unsportsmanlike conduct and unacceptable, racist behaviour has clearly not diminished and expectations for him to emerge as a mature, developed player seem to be dashed, bringing an bleak view of what this young player’s future could bring.
Similarly Denis Shapovalov’s tennis fame seemed to begin in controversy. Many people now know him from the Davis Cup, after being fined $7,000 for accidentally hitting the umpire in the eye with the ball, having lashed out in anger. Unsurprisingly this accident followed him, being a popular question in interviews, and for a time there was more doubt into his future and concern over how much this incident could effect him. Perhaps the pressure would topple him. But to prove any doubters wrong he managed to overcome this and in the last week successfully defeated Rafa in a tight, very competitive three sets, in front of a home crowd. He impressively saved three break points in the final set and showed confidence to step forward into the court and take the ball on, whether through big hitting or volleying. Shapovolov has attracted not just attention from those watching at home, but also Federer himself, who later stated that ‘I think we are going to see him in the Masters and the Grand Slams. It was wonderful to watch’. The next gen player has now made the impressive leap from 143 to 67 in the world and has become the youngest player to ever reach a masters 1000 semi-final.
The man to watch though, is Alexander Zverev, who he is now firmly sat in the top ten. In last weeks Montreal Masters Shapolovov fell to Zverev, who continued on to defeat Federer in straight sets. He now stands alongside Tsonga as the only active man outside the ‘big four’ to win two masters. He continues to make waves and a striking impact on those players that almost seem undefeatable. Nadal argued that ‘he is a clear possible future no.1’ and made clear that Zverev was not someone to take lightly in a match. These matches are giving us a glimpse into the possible future of this young player, who we could expect to see winning gland slams in subsequent years.
It now seems to be a waiting game to find out if this potential can really be fulfilled. A number of players have been labelled as the ones to watch in the past five years and have all struggled to push the top four (or five, with Wawrinka in the mix) from their dominant positions. Dimitrov, who successfully won Queens in 2014 and looked like the future of tennis, with a game style remarkably like Federer’s, has not managed to keep up his consistency to win the tournaments that had been predicted for him. These new players however, are already showing their ability to truly challenge the big four, showing a willingness to take risks in their games. Mistakes at the beginning of the career can be expected, and as long as they build on their experience and learn from these, improve their mental strength and keep pushing at their games they have the potential to go all the way.