Sunday, September 10, 2017

As the Inaugural Laver Cup Approaches, The World is Catching Up to Europe Fast

It’s no secret that Europeans have dominated men’s tennis for well over a decade now. Nearly every big tournament since 2003 has been won by a member of the all European “Big Five”, which means few big titles have been left for the rest of the world. While the inaugural Laver Cup, a competition pitting Europe versus the rest of the world, may have been a massive mismatch had it started ten years ago, it appears that it will be a much more even matchup going forward than many may have thought.

When Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka fade out over the next few years, much of the emerging talent in men’s tennis looks to be coming from outside of Europe. The US and Canada alone have loads of young talent who should be able to compete with Europe’s best. Canada can offer new sensation Denis Shapovalov, who has shot up the rankings faster than anyone expected. The scary thing is he may not even be Canada’s best young prospect. Felix Auger-Aliassime, now 17, just won another Challenger title and is moving into the top 200 in the world. Auger-Aliassime is considered by many to be one of the best prospects to come around in years, and with Shapovalov will make sure Canadian men’s tennis builds on Raonic’s success for over a decade.

The U.S. has several good prospects of their own, as Frances Tiafoe, Jared Donaldson, Taylor Fritz, Ernesto Escobedo, Tommy Paul and others have been making solid progress. None have risen quite as quickly as Shapovalov this summer, but there’s still a lot to like amongst this group. And if he can stay healthy and motivated, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios could very well be the “world’s” best player for the next five years.

Even as the “Big Five” eventually stops being dominant, Europe should have plenty of new talent of their own. Alexander Zverev is already one of the best players in the world and should only keep getting better. Dominic Thiem is becoming a fixture in the top ten, and young Russians Karen Khachanov, Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev have all made good strides this year. Borna Coric is still just 20, and after beating Zverev at the US Open, may be ready to make a run at the top 20.

There’s too much young talent starting to emerge for anyone to know for sure who will dominate in the years to come, but it’s hard to imagine the “world” not putting up a better fight against Europe over the next decade. Fortunately for the Laver Cup, it may have come into existence at just the right time.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Is Kevin Anderson’s Apperance in the US Open Finals a Fluke or a Sign of Things to Come?

With Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka, Nishikori and Raonic all missing the US Open with injuries, and Nadal and Federer in the same half, it’s not surprising that there’s only one superstar playing in the US Open men’s final. Kevin Anderson managed to take advantage of an open draw and blast his way into the finals, but the real question is if we’re headed for an era of the Kevin Anderson’s of the world making more major finals, continued Big-Four/Five dominance, or the “next gen” finally stepping up where it counts.

Even if Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka come back strong in 2018 and Federer continues to play at a high level, it’s looking more and more likely that they won’t maintain a stranglehold on grand slam finals spots going forward. Counting them out is rarely wise, and they may all win more majors. But with more early losses likely to happen as they enter or proceed through their thirties, more opportunities should arise for the rest of the tour.

The governing bodies of men’s tennis surely hope it’s the “next gen” who steps up and fills the void, but it seems just as likely we could be headed for a few years of less marketable middle-upper aged veterans like Kevin Anderson, Sam Querrey, Pablo Carreno-Busta, David Goffin and others going deep into the big events. This may not be good for tv ratings, but it’s something fans and the tour itself should prepare for before the next gen is truly ready to push everyone else out.

Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem and others have all made good progress in the last couple of years, but with only two grand slam semifinals between them in their careers (Thiem at the French) it might be too soon to pencil them into multiple grand slam finals in 2018. And while the “generation” below them may be every bit as good down the road (i.e. Shapavalov, Auger-Alliassime, Tiafoe, Rublev amongst other talented teenagers), don’t expect them to consistently go deep at majors for 3-4 more years.

Many tennis fans may not be happy, but there very well may be more “Kevin Andersons” popping up in grand slam finals over the next couple of years. While it will certainly take some getting used to, after being spoiled for so long with only legends fighting for grand slam titles, it might even start to feel a bit refreshing to have the occasional mere mortal to root for.