Recognizing the need to prepare champions for the future, the ATP has started a Top 21-and-under event of 8 youth players. The inaugural event will be played at Milan, Italy from 7-11 November and will be called the Next Gen ATP Finals. In fact, Milan will be the host venue for the 1st 5 years.
The 8 players who will feature in it are the top 7 21-and-Under players in the ATP rankings and a 8th player who will be a wildcard. The 8th player will be the winner of a 21-and-under Italian event of Italian players for a tournament which will be over on 5th November.
The event will not get these young stars any ATP points but will be a prize money tournament. Lets have a look at the 7 players who qualified for the tournament and how they reached there.
The Seven Future Stars
Alexander Zverev not only qualified for the Next Gen Finals but also the main ATP Tour finals. He therefore had a right to withdraw from this tournament as both tournaments will be played back to back. In fact he did so on 25th October itself and with his withdrawal the automatic seven was finalized. They are as follows;
Andrey Rublev was next to qualify. The young Russian, a former French Open Junior champion is currently the youngest player in the ATP Top 50. As a lucky loser he won the Croatia Open defeating enroute Fabio Fognini. He also had an exhilarating run in the US Open defeating Dimitrov and Goffin before running into Rafa in the Quarter finals. He certainly is a star of the future.
Karen Khachanov, also a Russian youngster had won his 1st APT tournament in 2016 with a win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas. In French Open 2017 he reached the 4th round by defeating Berdych and Isner. World Number 1 Murray stopped him in the 4th. At Wimbledon he lost to Nadal in the 3rd round. He has tremendous promise as well.
2016 Junior Wimbledon Champion Denis Shapovalov is the 3rd. The Israeli born Canadian shot to fame by defeating DelPo and Nadal enroute reaching the semifinals of the 2017 Canadian Open. As a qualifier he reached the 4th round of the US Open and created waves.
American Jared Donaldson and Croatian Borna Coric qualified when Francis Tiafoe lost to Federer in the 1st round at Basel. Tiafoe is probably the most unlucky of the Gen Next – for running into Roger Federer, not once or twice but three times in 2017. He lost all three but impressed at the US Open by stretching Federer to 5 sets in the 1st round. Tiafoe missing out on the Milan tournament can be squarely attributed to luck of the draw and meeting Federer thrice. He certainly has a great future, though his game seems to be such that he has to take special care to remain injury free.
As for Donaldson, the young American has had two big wins this year over experienced campaigners Pouille and Bautista-Agut at the Canadian Open and the Cincinnati Masters respectively. He is the highest ranked American player among the youngsters and has reached 3rd round at both Wimbledon and US Open.
Coric , a former Junior world Number 1 who had won the US Open Junior event as well was the youngest top 100 player in 2014. Coric has a 2-2 head to head versus Rafa Nadal and this in itself is enough of an emphatic statement of his potential. He has also defeated Murray. Indians will always have a soft corner for him as his 1st ATP Final was the 2016 Chennai Open where he lost to Wawrinka
Hyeon Chung of South Korea was the ATP most improved player in 2015 as he moved from rank 171 to rank 51. Since then he has maintained his rank between 40 and 60. His notable wins are over Monfils, Querrey and Goffin
The 7th player is Danil Medvedev, also from Russia. He too has reached the final of Chennai Open where he lost to Bautista Agut. His top win of career is defeating World Number 3 Wawrinka in the 1st round of the 2017 Wimbledon championships. He appears to be a potentially colourfull personality and already has had temper tantrums/several clashes with umpires etc.
These then are the players, 3 Russians, an American, a Croat, a Canadian, a South korean and an Italian. Who will triumph?
To conclude my preview , I take a look at certain rule changes proposed for this tournament
Now while I appreciate the idea of having a next Gen ATP Finals, I personally disapprove of certain fundamental changes made in the game. The matches will be best of 5 sets which will be welcome but in an unnatural change a set will end with a player reaching 4 games, and a tiebreaker will be at 3-3. This in my view was certainly not required as the mindset itself will be affected. Rather than a best of 5 sets with set ending at 4, it would have been better to have a best of 3 sets with games ending at 7, as is the current normal and accepted practice.
In a bid to make the game faster, there will be no lets. There will be just 25 seconds gap between points and the match will start just 5 minutes after the entry of the second player on court. A player will also be allowed only one medical time out in the entire match.
While the attempt to speed up the game is commendable, the thought comes to mind whether this will be unfair to say players like Rafa Nadal who like to take a few extra seconds between serves. One is reminded of Clive Lloyd’s response when 90 overs a day was sought to be enforced which he thought was unfair on his 4 fearsome fast bowlers. The Big Cat said “Whats the problem if we bowl 75-80 overs a day if we still finish a Test Match in 3 and half days”?. Similarly why pressurize players who like to take say 5 seconds more for their serves ?
Overall however, a big Thumbs up for the concept of Next Gen tournament and a big Thumbs down for concept of Best of 5, sets ending at 4 concept. Hoping that this will be revisited by the ATP. Also hoping that this tournament will give us champions of tomorrow.