Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2021 Next Gen ATP Finals and WTA Finals.
Every tennis season is a long grind.
On any given week, the tennis calendar is full of different events unfolding at the same time. It’s full of proverbial tectonic plates shifting at once and having consequences that are, or aren’t, far-reaching. On any given week, the events are plenty, but the powers that be usually set up the calendar to spread out the bigger (read: better) tournaments evenly throughout the year.
The thing is, the tennis calendar has many, many, many big events and sometimes, it’s impossible not for some events to overlap. Take this week, for example. Should we write a preview about the 2021 Next Gen ATP Finals or the 2021 Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara?
Why not write a preview for both events? Yeah, that’s what we’ll do.
Next Gen ATP Finals
The favourites: Carlos Alcaraz and Lorenzo Musetti. At just 18 and 19 years old, Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz and Italian Lorenzo Musetti have played no fewer than 41 and 38 ATP-level matches in 2021. More than anything else, this is why we’re picking both as the players to watch this week.
The dark horse: Hugo Gaston. This is 100 per cent recency bias here given Hugo Gaston’s run to the dang quarterfinals of the Rolex Paris Masters. But we’re here to tell you that we see the bearded French wonder going far this week.
The Americans: Brandon Nakashima and Sebastian Korda. Brandon Nakashima and Sebastian Korda are both American men’s tennis players and, as such, will always shine a little brighter than what they probably deserve to, thus far in their career. This must be what they mean when they say the American dream, right?
The Next Gen of the Next Gen Finals: Juan Manuel Cerundolo and Sebastian Baez. As No. 85 and No. 111, Juan Manuel Cerundolo and Sebastian Baez are firmly entrenched into the next generation of the next generation of men’s tennis. We would be surprised if they did anything worth mentioning this week. But next year? Next year could be their time.
The who? competitor: Holder Vitus Nodskov Rune. Look, we’re sorry. There is only so much mental energy a man can expand toward learning tennis players’ names and their career.
Akron WTA Finals
The favourites: Aryna Sabalenka and Paula Badosa. Aryna Sabalenka has spent the better part of the 2021 season taking major steps toward backing her stellar WTA ranking. Seeing her lift the trophy here would be the next of those steps. As for Paula Badosa, the Spaniard has come out of nowhere this year to break through the glass ceiling to 1) win the BNP Paribas Open, 2) almost make the Top 10 and 3) qualify for the WTA Finals. She’ll be dangerous this week.
The dark horse competitors: Maria Sakkari and Barbora Krejcikova. Is it fair to say that Barbora Krejcikova and Maria Sakkari have both enjoyed the best season of their respective career in 2021? On the one hand, the Greek has made the French Open and US Open semifinals while the Czech grabbed the singles and doubles French Open titles.
The one “happy to be here:” Anett Kontaveit. Has anyone on the WTA enjoyed a better fall than Anett Kontaveit? After losing in the US Open third round, the Estonian made the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals and grabbed the J&T Banka Ostrava Open, the VTB Kremlin Cup, and the Transylvania Open titles.
The youngster: Iga Swiatek. Can the current No. 10-ranked player in the world be flying under the radar? Because that’s what Iga Swiatek has accomplished in 2021. Still just 20 years old, the Polish has a Grand Slam title to her name from 2020, and made the second week at the four Grand Slams this season.
The veterans: Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza. Here are two players who will likely go down in history as fairly underrated and underappreciated. Garbine Muguruza has two Grand Slam titles to her name, to go along with two other finals, one semifinal and three more quarterfinals. She’s also been a mainstay at or near the top of the rankings since her 2014 breakthrough. Karolina Pliskova, meanwhile, has made two Grand Slam finals, two semifinals, and a whopping five quarterfinals. She’s been a mainstay in the Top 10 of the rankings for seven years already.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG