Future is now for the NextGen at U.S. Open

“NextGen” this. “NextGen” that. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It really is getting old. But with so many top players hurt, other than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal the ATP Tour simply hasn’t had anything else to talk about this season.

That being said, the good news for the ATP is that the NextGen group of which it speaks is sure representing well right now. And the good news for the rest of us is that “NextGen” may not be applicable much longer. Generation next is becoming generation now.

Look no further than this U.S. Open. The 36-year-old Federer has played his part–albeit not well–to generate headlines this week, and he remains on a collision course for a semifinal showdown with the 31-year-old Nadal. But aside from those two all-time greats, the youngsters have been the stories. Among the 32 men in the third round are Andrey Rublev (19 years old), Denis Shapovalov (18), Kyle Edmund (just outside the official NextGen range at 22), and Borna Coric (20), .

Rublev scored the first top-10 win of his career on Thursday afternoon, ousting Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 7-6(3), 6-3.

“Before (it) was (during the) juniors,” the Russian responded when asked about why he has not lived up to the hype until now. “The way I was working, it was not the way to be (a) pro tennis player. Now last year I change everything completely. I change the team completely. In that moment starts the real work. And now I improve in this year. I improve much more than in all my tennis career. This is it.”

Shapovalov has improved drastically this past month alone. The Canadian stunned Rafael Nadal en route to the Montreal semis, qualified for the main draw of this U.S. Open, and has taken down fellow up-and-comer Daniil Medvedev in addition No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

“I played unbelievable today,” Shapovalov said after overwhelming Tsonga in straight sets during Wednesday’s night session in Arthur Ashe Stadium. “Very high level. Yeah, I don’t know why, but I just managed to stay loose and go for my shots the whole match…. It’s been a long progress. I don’t think I was always mentally solid as I am today. I’ve been working extremely hard on it with my team. I think it’s improved quite a bit.”

Next up for Shapovalov is Edmund, who has not dropped set in wins over Robin Haase and Steve Johnson. But Shapovalov vs. Edmund won’t be the first intriguing battle between youngsters at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. On Wednesday, Coric surprisingly got the best of fellow 20-year-old and No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev in a grueling four-set contest.

“It’s that NextGen thing,” the Croat said when asked if he has a “rivalry” with Zverev and rest of the gang that is bidding for spots in the inaugural NextGen Tour Finals in Milan at the end of this season. “You know, what ATP is promoting–also what we are promoting. I think it’s actually quite cool. I think it does help us, as well, to put us on the map…. I don’t know. I don’t see it as a big rivalry. I think we all have our paths, our careers. We need to go in our way. I’m trying not to look at the other guys, trying to look at myself, to improve my game, to improve my tennis.”

Coric, and many others, are doing a commendable job in the department of improving. Even some of the NextGen losers at the U.S. Open impressed mightily. Frances Tiafoe pushed Federer to five on Tuesday night, Taylor Fritz took Dominic Thiem to 7-5 in the fourth on Thursday, and Jared Donaldson almost came back from two sets down against Lucas Pouille only to fall 6-4 in the fifth.

During his Thursday press conference, Federer predicted that a changing guard is still a few years away. But he knows as well as anyone that the NextGen is coming. And coming fast.


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