Next gen poised to fill the void?

Published by Todd Woodbridge

Nick Kyrgios (R) and Alexander Zverev met at the Hopman Cup in 2016; Getty Images

With Rafael Nadal finding his clay feet again with wins in Monte Carlo and Barcelona in the past two weeks, it certainly has heightened the anticipation as we head into the second major of the season at Roland Garros.

More interestingly, though, is at last the reality that for the first time in many years, we are finally seeing a younger generation capable of winning Grand Slam titles and taking over from the Big Four.

Yet to become a Grand Slam champion requires the whole package and within that package there are four non-negotiable elements – raw talent, athleticism, tactical prowess and mental strength.

The members of the next generation group I see as the most likely looks like this:

  • Dominic Thiem, who at 22 years of age and No.15 in the world leads the group
  • Nick Kyrgios, who is now 21 and at a career-high ranking of No.20
  • Borna Coric, the 19-year-old Croat ranked 40th
  • Alexander Zverev, the 6-foot-6 19-year-old ranked 49th

Thiem has impressed over the past 12 months by being the most consistent of the group. I see him making a big breakthrough this year by going deep at Slam level and then winning one in the next couple of years. His ball striking is magnificent and his single-handed backhand a standout; he could be the Stan Wawrinka of his peer group. His athleticism is key to his success but tactically he needs to have more options to succeed on all surfaces. Slam most likely: Roland Garros.

Kyrgios has been the standout thus far at Slam level, having already reached quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Right now he ticks the talent and tactics box better than any other player but he obviously needs time to mature mentally and then requires a lot of work physically so his body can endure the rigours of winning a two-week event. Slam most likely: Wimbledon or the US Open.

Coric is the most interesting; he reminds me so much of a young Djokovic. At 19, people knew Novak was a good player but few really believed he would dominate as he has. Borna’s qualities are similar with disciplined mental strength and athleticism. If he is smart with the team he builds around him he will be the most consistent and I can see him winning on all surfaces with the longevity to match. Slam most likely: Australian Open or Wimbledon.

Zverev is my wildcard; his issue is defining a game style and finding way to separate himself from the above pack. Of the four he has the absolute passion and love of the sport that will take him far. Perhaps, though, he may end up being the Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of this new era – always capable of an upset but not quite enough to finish it off. Slam most likely: maybe the US Open.

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