It’s been a big week in tennis news, with Andre Agassi working with Grigor Dimitrov in Paris, a surprising American team announcement for the upcoming Fed Cup final, and another injury to Rafael Nadal.
And next week, eight young guns – Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex De Minaur, Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Andrey Rublev, Jaume Munar, Hubert Hurkacz and an Italian wildcard – will head to Milan for the second edition of the Next Gen ATP Finals, a tournament open to the best 21-and-under players.
The Tennismash editorial team of Vivienne Christie, Matt Trollope and Leigh Rogers pick their likely winners for the Next Gen title, and discuss all that other news, in the latest edition of SmashTalk.
Christie: Well, he can’t hurt, can he? At the same time last year, Grigor was on the brink of an ATP Finals win and after rising to world No.3, tipped to at last break through at the Slams. Now he’s about to drop outside the top 20 and barely made a ripple at any event – let alone a major – this year. Expectation clearly undermines Dimitrov’s sizeable talent and Agassi can perhaps help him manage that pressure. At the very least, the change will provide a welcome fresh start.
Trollope: Firstly, the pairing makes sense. Agassi is looking to restore his coaching reputation after his failed experiment with Novak Djokovic while Dimitrov is looking to recover after another slump following a breakout season. Not all great players make great coaches, but if Agassi can instill in Dimitrov a focus on being more assertive, aggressive and decisive on court, it will do wonders.
Rogers: I don’t think Dimitrov’s game needs too much work; it’s his confidence and ability to handle expectations that needs to improve. This makes Agassi the perfect fit. He knows how to deal with the emotional highs and lows of life on tour, experience that could no doubt help Dimitrov.
Christie: If you had to sum it up in a word (or two): a mis-match. Every member of the Czech team is top-10 in singles or doubles. The highest-ranked American is the inexperienced Daniella Collins at world No.35. Three Grand Slam champions and another finalist – Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Madison Keys – are among 12 top-100 American women. It’s puzzling, maybe even a bit mind-boggling, that not one of those women will provide the Czechs with a tougher test in Prague.
Trollope: Extremely disappointing. While the Czech Republic have fielded a full-strength side, defending champions United States are sending a second-string team that will rob the final of the match-ups and atmosphere that will do justice to the occasion. We could have had Kvitova vs Stephens and Pliskova vs Keys in a packed Prague Arena. But we won’t. Why don’t the top Americans want to play?
Rogers: My initial reaction was surprised. After Sloane Stephens’ impressive performance at the WTA Finals and Madison Keys competing in Zhuhai this week, I expected both of them to spearhead the team. What an opportunity though for Danielle Collins and Sofia Kenin, who have both enjoyed breakout years and are now being rewarded with a Fed Cup debut. Nicole Melichar is also deserving of a spot in the team. The Czech team are tough to beat at home – but the Americans will have no pressure, so can’t be discounted.
Christie: After two ATP tournament finals in 2018, Alex de Minaur is in a great position. So too are Stefanos Tsitsipas and Frances Tiafoe, winners of maiden titles this year. But there’s been a lot of tennis and a lot of pressure for all those players: I have a sense that Andrey Rublev, runner-up at the inaugural 2017 event, could sneak through with a win.
Trollope: As an Australian, my heart says Alex De Minaur. And he’s a good chance. But the head says Stefanos Tsitsipas – the Greek star has been brilliant in a breakout 2018 will have too many weapons and too much confidence for the others in the field.
Rogers: Stefanos Tsitsipas. Right now he is a class above the rest of his peers in the field.
Christie: That’s a ‘no’ for me. As much as I’d love to see Rafa contest the one big event he’s yet to win, the injuries are adding up – first the knee problem that forced him out of the US Open and subsequent tournaments; now the abdominal injury that thwarted his Paris plans. With world No.1 already surrendered to Djokovic, a focus on returning healthy in 2019 is the smarter move.
Trollope: I would definitely have said yes, given he’d had time to recover from knee tendinitis. Then he strained his abdominals in Paris. Rafa has pulled out of 13 of his past 14 hard court tournaments – you read that correctly – but I still think he’ll play in London. He just won’t win the title.
Rogers: No. It is a tough ask to sit out for two months and then return against the world’s top-ranked players at the ATP Finals. I think it would be a wiser decision for Nadal to focus instead on a return at full fitness in 2019.
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