Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon wonders what it might take for a new face in tennis to win a big one.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but winning a Grand Slam does appear to be difficult.
As in: it does seem to be extra difficult and necessitating of a little extra that you might not need to capture other titles—which isn’t the same as saying that any person can win the BNP Paribas Open, of course not.
But to win, say, Roland Garros, you need to win seven matches, or more than for any other tournament, against the very best in the world all trying their very best all the while navigating a larger draw than usual that tends to hide traps and pitfalls at every turn. We’re not saying that you need luck to win a major…but yeah, we’re kind of saying that too.
Tennis is a young person’s game, they say, but one place where this hasn’t been the case over the past 15 to 20 years has been on the grandest of stages. Young tennis players, excellent as they may be, do not tend to perform their absolute best at the sport’s four Grand Slam tournaments.
All of which is to say that this column will examine a number of currently promising youngsters in men’s and women’s tennis and how they’ve fared so far at majors.
He has every line in the resume: the No. 1 ranking in juniors, the quick rise through the ranks once he turned pro, the well-rounded game, and so on. But so far in his young career, the results haven’t exactly followed. We’re already on the record in saying that maybe the Alexander Zverev hype train has moved to full-speed a bit too soon, but the German very well could be on his way to changing things this week in Paris, having made a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time after a third five-set win.
At 23 years old, Elina Svitolina is firmly entrenched at or near the top and with 12 career titles and almost $10 million in prize money, there’s very little the Ukrainian hasn’t accomplished already. All that’s left is basically the No. 1 ranking, a Grand Slam title and capturing the BNP Paribas WTA Finals. This would be the difference between a great career and a lasting legacy.
A little bit like Svitolina, the American has accomplished a whole lot of things at just 23 years old and this season, at least if the first two Grand Slams are any indication, could be her best yet. Keys’s game is best suited for the faster hard courts than the clay, but this Roland Garros draw has broken in a way that it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see the American capture the Coupe des Mousquetaires this week.
We’re probably cheating here, because Baby Fed is already 27 years old and is not close to being the same youngster that others in this group are. But still, we’re including Grigor Dimitrov because there remains a sense of unfulfilled potential with the man: how can someone so talented and with a game so reminiscent of Roger Federer have had, erm, so little success on the ATP World Tour?
Well no one can be King Roger, you know? Dimitrov has 8 career titles, over $15 million in prize money, has made two Grand Slam semifinals and a career-high ranking of No. 3. He hasn’t won a major, maybe he never will, and it shouldn’t matter.
The Canadian wunderkind has received the GQ treatment recently, so you know he’s already a big deal. While the summer of Shapo last year announced his arrival, young Denis has a bit treated water since then but we’re not worried. He has the game, flair and attitude worthy of the best in men’s tennis. His first Grand Slam title isn’t coming in Paris this week, but it shouldn’t be long.
We’re way ahead of schedule in anointing the Japanese: just 20 years old, Naomi Osaka is still just No. 20 in the world and has only one title to her name but what a title it was! In Indian Wells, Osaka left little doubt she belonged with the best players on the WTA and beat three current and former World No. 1s in Maria Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep before taking home the crown.
Since, her results have been middling but it’s okay, give her time. She’s still just 20.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG