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2016 - Longly awaited Renaissance of the young guns!

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by Jovica Ilic

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: 1/4: 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 1/2: Alexander Zverev - Montpellier, Munich, Washington, Stockholm
Reilly Opelka - Atlanta Final: Borna Coric - Chennai, Marrakech
Taylor Fritz - Memphis
Alexander Zverev - Nice, Halle Title: Alexander Zverev - St.

Karen Khachanov - Chengdu The rest of the story is on the next page ALSO READ: Could 2017 give us a last golden year of this tennis era? Zverev has been building his game constantly all the way since 2012 and his first Futures victory, and he was the leader of the young players in the last couple of years in almost every segment - He was my first peak for winning the ATP title, but we can see that Borna Coric and Taylor Fritz had a chance to do that before him in the first 4 months of the season - They were defeated in title matches in Chennai, Marrakech, and Memphis, and it has to be said that Alexander was in the position to achieve this a few months earlier, losing the finals in Nice in May and in Halle in June - Nevertheless, it was clear that he posses everything that was required to finally bring an ATP title to teenagers and U20 players, and that happened in St - Petersburg (he has Russian origins) on September 25 when he defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-2 3-6 7-5 - That drought of the youngsters was, at last, ended after more than 8 years, and it will be very interesting to follow this amazing player in 2017, in what will be his ultimate U20 season - Knowing his will to compete and constantly impove his game, we will be writing about him on a big scale in 2017 - You can read more about his path towards the St - Petersburg crown in our match reports: second round, quarter-final, semi-final, final -
Once the spel was broken, we didn't have to wait too long to see another big moment for the U20 players on the ATP Tour, as Karen Khachanov won his maiden ATP trophy just a week after Sascha, in the Chinese town of Chengdu! Karen already showed his abilities on clay and hard courts, troubling some much better-ranked rivals with his strong powerful game, but here in Chengdu, he went all the way, beating Feliciano Lopez, Viktor Troicki, and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a dramatic final - You can read more about his matches from Chengdu here: first round, second round, quarter-final, semi-final, final - Challenger Tour: Impressive achievements on the ATP Tour were transmitted to the Challenger level as well, where the young guns also harvested some huge wins and titles, starting from the very first week - Casper Ruud won the title on his Challenger debut, as the only 17-year-old with a crown this season, and he was followed by 7 18-year-old guys who also lifted the trophy (there were 13 teenage champions in total, and they lost another 17 finals) - A big lot of U20 players claimed their first Challenger success in 2016, and those players are Casper Ruud, Andrey Rublev, Frances Tiafoe, Max Purcell, Michael Mmoh, Stefan Kozlov, Blake Mott, Quentin Halys, Maxime Janvier, Reilly Opelka, Ernesto Escobedo and Christian Garin! Points won at this level of competition are always a nice injection of pace for the upcoming players that are climbing their way towards the Top 100 or 200 on the ATP rankings list, and a springboard for the future good results - Here is the list of all U20 Challenger champions in 2016 (20 titles in total):

 Happy Valley    - Taylor Fritz     (USA, 1997) Launceston      - Blake Mott       (AUS, 1996) Quimper         - Andrey Rublev    (RUS, 1997) Barletta        - Elias Ymer       (SWE, 1996) Tallahassee     - Quentin Halys    (FRA, 1996) Samarkand       - Karen Khachanov  (RUS, 1996) Gimcheon        - Max Purcell      (AUS, 1998) Lexington       - Ernesto Escobedo (USA, 1996) Granby          - Frances Tiafoe   (USA, 1998)    Seville         - Casper Ruud      (NOR, 1998) St -  Remy        - Daniil Medvedev  (RUS, 1996) Kaohsiung       - Hyeon Chung      (KOR, 1996) Stockton        - Frances Tiafoe   (USA, 1998) Casablanca      - Maxime Janvier   (FRA, 1996) Monterrey       - Ernesto Escobedo (USA, 1996) Lima            - Christian Garin  (CHI, 1996) Charlottesville - Reilly Opelka    (USA, 1997) Kobe            - Hyeon Chung      (KOR, 1996) Knoxville       - Michael Mmoh     (USA, 1998) Columbus        - Stefan Kozlov    (USA, 1998)

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