For a good part of the past decade, the biggest names in tennis have also been the oldest.
The game has been dominated by players in their late 20s and 30s. Fans have invested years rooting for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, while fretting what the sport was going to do without them.
Well, fret no more. With all of the big legends except for Djokovic sitting out this year’s U.S. Open, we are getting a good glimpse at the future of tennis. And the result has been an impressive youth explosion.
For the first time in recent memory, three teenagers have made the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.
Great Britain’s 18-year-old Emma Raducanu became the latest teen to clinch a spot in the final eight, after absolutely destroying Shelby Rogers, 6-2, 6-1, on Monday. She became just the third qualifier to reach the quarterfinals in the professional era.
Raducanu joins Canadian 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez, who reached the final eight after competing consecutive upsets of Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, and 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who followed his stunning victory over No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas with a comeback win against Peter Gojowczyk to reach the quarterfinals.
Alcaraz is the youngest player in the Open era to reach the U.S. Open men’s quarterfinals. This also marks the first time that two teenagers have reached a U.S. Open women’s quarterfinal since 2009, when Caroline Wozniacki, Yanina Wickmayer and Melanie Oudin did it.
Raducanu said on the court after her big win on Monday that she was inspired by the wins of her fellow teenagers.
"It definitely plays a part. I wanted to join them as well," she said. "But everyone had their own trajectory and I’m so happy to focus on my game and get into the quarterfinals."
Raducanu, who is ranked 150th in the world, has a chance to become the first qualifier ever to make it to the semifinals in the U.S. Open if she can get past 25-year-old Belinda Bencic on Wednesday.
On the morning of their fourth-round matches Sunday, Fernandez and Alcaraz posed together holding "I [heart character] New York" T-shirts. Two days earlier, the two had both toppled No. 3 seeds in back-to-back matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium with Fernandez knocking off Naomi Osaka, the defending champion.
The two young players clearly feel like they are a part of something special and get their inspiration from one another.
"Honestly the Alcaraz match gave me motivation and gave me the energy to do the same," Fernandez revealed in an interview with ESPN. "I saw his match and I saw the way he won, and I'm like: I'm gonna do that next now!"
Fernandez, ranked 73rd in the world entering the tournament, believes all three are pushing one another and sending out a message to the rest of the tennis world.
"Seeing all these teenagers, the youngsters doing so great at the US Open and the other tournaments, too is also eye-opening I think to the world, to the tennis world, because there is not only like one group of tennis players," Fernandez said after her three-set upset of Osaka with a three-set upset of German Angelique Kerber Sunday. "There is a new wave of younger generations that are coming up and just trying to make an impact in the tennis game as much as they can."
Perhaps it should be no surprise we are seeing this.
While the biggest storyline may be Novak Djokovic’s bid to win a record 21st Grand Slam this season, his path and everyone else’s is a lot more open at the Open than it has been in a long time without Federer and Nadal to contend with. With Williams pulling out of the tournament and Osaka having struggled this season, there had also been more opportunity on the women’s side.
It’s possible that older players are feeling the pressure of that opportunity, while the teenagers –with decades ahead of them – can play as if they have nothing to lose.