Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters and previews the upcoming 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals.
While the men’s tennis world looks ahead at the sport’s promising future this week, we received a stern reminder that the present is still shining as bright as ever.
Over the weekend at the Rolex Paris Masters, Novak Djokovic couldn’t quite wrap up another of his masterpieces, falling in the final against Russian Karen Khachanov by the score of 7-5 and 6-4. The loss came a day after the Serb denied Roger Federer’s ongoing bid for a 100th career title in a proverbial “final before the final” semifinal: a 7-6(8), 5-7 and 7-6(3) grudge match that also doubled as one of the most enjoyable matches of the year.
As a result of all this, the man who’s now lost his first match after 22 straight wins, and three tournament titles in a row since a weird third-round loss in Toronto, well this man is now back to World No. 1 after falling to No. 22 this past summer. Djokovic is looking increasingly likely to stay there and has become once again the most daunting task on the ATP World Tour, a destroyer of worlds and hope of anyone who dares step in his path.
Also: a damn fine example of resiliency and perseverance for players of the next generation, the ones who hope to one day replace him at the top.
And would you look at that, it just so happens that this week in Milan are held the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals—it’s almost like we had planned it. (We had.) Think of this event like the kiddie version of the Nitto ATP Finals, which come the following week.
When you have a weekly column like this one, you take the inspiration where you can; if there are three events remaining on the calendar, then you write about each one (and worry about the extra six weeks to the year without any events another day). Much like we did for the 2018 BNP Paribas WTA Finals, let’s see if we’re able to properly predict how this event will turn out.
The favourite: Stefanos Tsitsipas
What a difference a year makes! At this time in 2017, Stefanos Tsitsipas had missed on qualifying to this very same event by a hair and was the first alternate—the very best of the worst, if you will, though it’s kinda mean to say it like that.
This time, the Greek is a worthy No. 1 favourite here in Spain. (Maybe he would be 2nd if not for Alexander Zverev’s absence, but the German at this point is closer to the best players on Tour than he is the Next Gen.) If Tsitsipas can recapture his summer form that had him in the Rogers Cup final, he’ll be a formidable opponent in Milan.
The dark horse favourite: Alex De Minaur
That said, should Tsitsipas trip up, it’s Australian Alex De Minaur who would benefit. The 19-year-old has shot up like a meteorite over the past 12 months, gaining no fewer than 193 ranking spots since falling to No. 226 on November 13, 2017. De Minaur is now No. 33 and, after turning more than its fair share of eyes in coming this close of beating Marin Cilic at the US Open, the future is bright for the young man.
The Americans: Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz
Hello, might we interest you in the two most promising Americans? The first thing to know is that Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe couldn’t possibly have any more different playing styles: the latter is a scrappy and affable player who’ll use every trick in the bag to make the shot while the former has a more classic way.
The truth about the pair is that up until 2018, neither of them had been really good at the ATP level. They had both enjoyed successful and fruitful junior careers, but it hadn’t translated into anything worthy in the pros. Then Tiafoe captured a first title at Delray Beach while Fritz sports a 12-2 deciding record in final-set tiebreaks.
Andrey Rublev: Andrey Rubble
What is there to say about the Russian other than the fact that he’s a perfectly fine and competent tennis player, seemingly destined to a pro career spent around the No. 40-50 ranking with the occasional peak 30-something? Hey, a new Jeremy Chardy is far from the worst outcome for anyone.
The “Better luck next time” candidates: Hubert Hurkaz
The lanky Polish Hubert Hurkacz is currently living his very best life, qualifying for the Next Gen ATP Finals at his career-best ranking of No. 79. Hurkacz managed to qualify for his first three Grand Slam events in 2018, even winning two total matches, which is nothing to sneeze at.
The “who?” candidates: Jaume Munar, Liam Caruana
We sure Jaume Munar is a very cool young man, but we don’t know enough about him to really say much of anything. Sorry. If he’s back next year, we swear it’ll be different. Liam Capuana, meanwhile, is an Italian who used to compete under the American flag until 2016. His career high ranking is No. 375 so, euh, let’s maybe curb our collective enthusiasm for Milan.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG