2016 - Longly awaited Renaissance of the young guns!
Tennis - It was the best season for the U20 players since 2008, and we bring you a review of all big things they achieved
Back in 2010, people were still mainly talking about Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, but one thing caught my attention at the end of that season. It was almost impossible to find any new prospect or a talented player who is ready to make at least a decent impact on the ATP Tour (only two players who were younger than 22 at that time finished the season inside the Top 100) so I started to follow U20 players (who were turning 20 that season, or younger) in every professional tournament from 2011 onward. The beginning was hard, as only Grigor Dimitrov, Ryan Harrison, and Bernard Tomic managed to complete some serious job in the ATP tournaments, but the problem was in the fact that no one could follow them (these 3 had 46 wins in the ATP tournaments in total, while Alexander Zverev alone claimed 44 this season). Tomic and Harrison led the U20 players in 2012 (Ryan made 2 ATP semi-finals with 1 for Bernard as well) but that was pretty much it, with no additional players inside the Top 130 in the year-end rankings. 2013 was absolutely dreadful, with no more than 13 ATP wins for the U20 competitors (4 for Thiem and 3 for Khachanov), and this was probably the worst tennis season for the young players ever, as it was almost impossible to get any worse!
In 2014 we saw first signs of better days to come, as Nick Kyrgios, Borna Coric, Lucas Pouille, Alexander Zverev and Thanasi Kokkinakis all finished the season inside the Top 150, bringing some essential fresh air on the sleepy ATP Tour. The avalanche was alive and kickin', and it was impossible to stop it from that moment on. In 2015 we witnessed even better results for the upcoming stars, Nick Kyrgios reached his first ATP final and finished the season ranked 30th, accompanied by Borna Coric (finished 44th), Hyeon Chung (51st), Thanasi Kokkinakis (80th) and Alexander Zverev, who was the youngest player inside the Top 100, ranked 83rd. This was a nice prelude of great things that will come in 2016, things we didn't saw since 2008, and without any doubt this year marked the best season for the U20 players in the last 8 years! In the rest of the article, we will take a more detailed overview of everything that Alexander Zverev and other players born in 1996 or later managed to achieve in 2016, since they had some amazing performances at all 3 levels of professional tennis.
To get a clear insight of the best U20 players of the season, here is a list of U20 players that finished 2016 in the Top 300:
#24 Alexander Zverev (GER, 1997) 1655 #48 Borna Coric (CRO, 1996) 945 #53 Karen Khachanov (RUS, 1996) 863 #76 Taylor Fritz (USA, 1997) 701 #99 Daniil Medvedev (RUS, 1996) 611 #104 Hyeon Chung (KOR, 1996) 571 #105 Jared Donaldson (USA, 1996) 570 #108 Frances Tiafoe (USA, 1998) 550 #116 Stefan Kozlov (USA, 1998) 508 #141 Ernesto Escobedo (USA, 1996) 443 #149 Duck Hee Lee (KOR, 1998) 411 #153 Quentin Halys (FRA, 1996) 399 #156 Andrey Rublev (RUS, 1997) 395 #160 Elias Ymer (SWE, 1996) 372 #197 Michael Mmoh (USA, 1998) 278 #200 Noah Rubin (USA, 1996) 274 #204 Reilly Opelka (USA, 1997) 267 #205 Alexander Bublik (KAZ, 1997) 265 #208 Akira Santillan (JPN, 1997) 263 #210 Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE, 1998) 260 #211 Christian Garin (CHI, 1996) 251 #222 Marc Polmans (AUS, 1997) 238 #223 Dmitry Popko (KAZ, 1996) 238 #225 Casper Ruud (NOR, 1998) 231 #244 Zdenek Kolar (CZE, 1996) 215 #250 Denis Shapovalov (CAN, 1999) 209 #258 Maxime Janvier (FRA, 1996) 201 #279 Kamil Majchrzak (POL, 1996) 181 #282 Tommy Paul (USA, 1997) 177 #284 Lloyd Harris (RSA, 1997) 176 #286 Blake Mott (AUS, 1996) 173 #288 Sebastian Ofner (AUT, 1996) 173 #291 Gianluigi Quinzi (ITA, 1996) 168 #292 Jaume Munar (ESP, 1997) 168 #296 Clement Geens (BEL, 1996) 166
35 players from 4 different generations made this list, and we can see that Alexander Zverev is far above all the others, finishing the year ranked 24th in the world, which is the best ranking for U20 players since Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic in 2008. 4 other players joined him in the Top 100, which is very encouraging, and another few found themselves just below the list. Frances Tiafoe and Stefan Kozlov are the leaders of the 1998 generation, and it is fantastic to see Denis Shapovalov as well, as by far the best player born in 1999 at the moment. Many of those players stepped in and left their mark on the ATP Tour, among the best players in the world, and this was by far the best season of the U20 players on the highest level of competition since the mentioned 2008. 10 different players reached 25 ATP quarter-finals, 12 semi-finals, 7 finals, and in the end, they won 2 ATP titles (Zverev and Khachanov). Interestingly, German and Russian achieved this in back-to-back weeks, and the last U20 player with an ATP crown before them was Marin Cilic, way back in August 2008! Here is the list of all U20 competitors that advanced at least to the quarter-final round on the ATP level:
Alexander Zverev - Rotterdam, Beijing
Taylor Fritz - Acapulco, Atlanta
Hyeon Chung - Houston
Borna Coric - Estoril, Cincinnati
Stefan Kozlov - 's-Hertogenbosch
Elias Ymer - Gstaad
Karen Khachanov - Kitzbuhel, Vienna
Alexander Bublik - Moscow
Daniil Medvedev - Moscow
Alexander Zverev - Montpellier, Munich, Washington, Stockholm
Reilly Opelka - Atlanta
Borna Coric - Chennai, Marrakech
Taylor Fritz - Memphis
Alexander Zverev - Nice, Halle
Alexander Zverev - St. Petersburg
Karen Khachanov - Chengdu
The rest of the story is on the next page