We are now a year into the Next Gen marketing campaign by the professional men’s tennis tour, ballyhooing a new wave of young talent. But, so far, major tournament results indicate a stopped clock, with 30-something champs Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal having claimed all of the 2017 Grand Slam hardware.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that things won’t change, and there have been hints of revolution at this year’s U.S. Open. Federer acknowledged as much after squeaking out a first-round, five-set victory over 19-year-old American Frances Tiafoe.
Tiafoe is among those, 22 and under, cited in the Next Gen marketing, as is 19-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev, who yesterday clobbered Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, the seventh seed, in a straight-sets upset.
Ranked 53rd, Rublev had no trouble whatsoever with Dimitrov, who meanwhile serves as evidence that advertising isn’t prophetic. Once ticketed for future dominance, and called the “Baby Fed” for a playing style similar to Federer’s, Dimitrov is now 26 years old and, for the 26th time in 29 Slam events, is gone before the quarterfinals.
Likewise, American Donald Young, who had been a teenaged phenom, is still trying to make a major impact at 28, though he gave No. 18 seed Gael Monfils all hes could handle before losing, 7-5, in the fifth.
Another caution about seeing the future: All three of the Open’s seeded members of Next Gen — No. 4 Sasha Zverev of Germany, No. 14 Nick Kyrgios of Australia and No. 25 Karen Khachanov of Russia — were upset in the first round, as was Australia’s 21-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Taylor Fritz, 19, on Thursday lost his second-round match in four sets to No. 8 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria, the same fate experienced by Korea’s Hyeon Chung, 21, and American Jared Donaldson, 20, on Wednesday. That leaves only two Next Geners other than Rublev, Britain’s Kyle Edmund, 22, and Croatia’s Borna Coric, 20, alive in the third round.
Federer, asked about the Next Gen campaign, recalled that he came on the tour as part of the “New Balls, Please” generation. “We went on to become, many of us, top-five players. I wish the same for them.”
But there are no guarantees.