Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon looks at the next next generation and who will step up.
Same song and dance.
The 2021 season hasn’t even started but already, we’re anticipating that it will be characterized by the same push-and-pull approach that marked the post-coronavirus version of this past season, this song of walking the fine line between postponing, rescheduling or outright cancelling events in an age of a pandemic.
You might have been forgiving for hoping this wouldn’t be the case but alas, it does appear that next year will not be spared. A few days ago, the Australian Open organizers announced that next year’s event would be pushed back and begin on Feb. 8 when it was slated to end a full week before.
The sound you’ve collectively heard was that of tennis fans all around the world hitting their forehead in frustration.
The decision makes sense, though. There really is no reason but one (i.e. it rhymes with “mash” and starts with the letter “c”) why we’re even having global events similar to a tennis season, so of course the schedule will be thrown in flux at the slightest hint of trouble.
So for now, the Australian Open is set to begin next February. Whether it happens this way or not is anyone’s guess.
That said, we thought we would use this week’s edition of the column to look at a few of the brightest names of the next “next generation” of stars in men’s tennis and see if we can anticipate who might enjoy the best career in the end.
Jannik Sinner – Italy
–Claim to fame: Somehow already ranked No. 37 at just 19 years old, Jannik Sinner brought down Alexander Zverev and made the quarterfinals at this year’s French Open.
–Best result: He’s already achieved what plenty of youngsters his age haven’t, namely winning a first career title. It came just last month at the Sofia Open, where Sinner defeated four players ranked in the top 100.
–Ceiling: Future Grand Slam champion who should be ranked in the top 10 or even top 5.
Sebastian Korda – United States
– Age: 20
– Claim to fame: It’s between being Petr Korda’s son and wining the 2018 Australian Open junior title. Still, he’s currently ranked fairly «low» at No. 118 so he has ways to go.
– Best result: Korda’s career highlight is probably making the fourth round at this year’s French Open, where his idol Rafael Nadal promptly ran him through the roughshod to the tune of 6-1, 6-1 and 6-2.
Ceiling: Korda is all set to become a very serviceable pro who makes the occasional run if the draw breaks just right but who probably ends up being a little overrated for being American.
Lorenzo Musetti – Italy
– Age: 18
– Claim to fame: At this year’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in front of his hometown, Lorenzo Musetti became the first man born in 2002 to win a singles match. He did it against Stan Wawrinka, somehow beating him in straight sets including a 6-0 in the first set.
– Best result: It’s either making the third round of the Rome Masters 1000 or wining the 2019 Australian Open junior title.
– Ceiling: Musetti is likely looking at a solid 10-to-15-year career of being a pest ranked around the Top 20-30 and ruining at least one favourite’s week at most events he competes in.
Brandon Nakashima – United States
– Age: 19
– Claim to fame: This is tricky. The 19-year-old American has only a 3-2 career record on the ATP so we’ve got little to work with. It’s, like, probably winning the ACC Freshman of the Year after a 17-5 singles record and 20-3 doubles record, right?
– Best result: Undeniably, the highlight of Nakashima’s career is making the second round at this year’s US Open and coming ever so close to grabbing a two-set lead against eventual finalist Zverev.
Ceiling: We’re higher on Nakashima than we are on his countryman Korda but it’s still unlikely that he becomes a Grand Slam champion.
This next “next generation” will get the benefit of not coming up and competing in the golden era of men’s tennis and against probably the three best players the sport has ever seen. If only for this reason, they should be more successful than the Dominic Thiems and Grigor Dimitrovs of this world.
Of course, these are but four names that we’ve chosen to highlight among a large number of possibilities—not to mention players like Taylor Fritz, Felix Auger-Aliassime or Denis Shapovalov, players who are of the same age but who have by and large already started to fulfill their great potential.
Here’s to hoping that the four gentlemen mentioned here can live up to their billing. If they do, we’ll wish everyone well at the Davis Cup: good luck competing for third place, behind the United States and Italy, for the next 10 to 15 years.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG