Tennis / dominic thiem
Which Young Tennis Player Will Be First to Win a Grand Slam?
Did you know there has yet to be a player born in the 1990's onward that has won a Grand Slam title in the men's tennis world? That is quiet an extraordinary observation given many of those players will be between 24 to 29 years old and yet there has not been a single player talented enough to win one of the 4 major events held each year. Such is the dominance of the old guard. Djokovic and Federer were both only 21 when they won their first Grand Slam, Nadal just 18 years old and Del Potro who is the last young player to win a slam all the way back in 2009 was 20 at the US Open. For 10 whole years there has been a major lack of young talent coming through good enough to take on the big time players. Some will put it down to the skill of the current big 3, but I would look towards whats going wrong with the young players of this generation. They just don't seem to have that flair, tenacity and all around devastating game to win slams. If you look at the big 3, they all have one formidable quality all the other players do not have. Federer's top quality is his all around game, where back and forecourt are just as easy to play for him, there's not one shot or position he is weak at. No other player has the ability to cover the whole court as comfortably and with as much panache as the Swiss. Nadal's top quality is his forehand, it kicks up so high when it bounces deep on the court causing all sorts of problems for his opposition. He has the best forehand in the game. I prefer it to Federer's because it's more consistent, it's a weapon but it also produces less unforced errors. Djokovic's top quality is his backhand, no one has a backhand more consistent and accurate than his. Of course all these three also do many other things better than the rest of the pack, with the exception of the serve where some of the big guys dominate. Dominic Thiem was the last young player to make it to a Slam final last year at the French Open, he was 24 then, 25 now so hardly very young compared to the above examples but he can still be included in the bracket compared the top 3 who are all in their 30's now. No one else has come close. The most successful young player on tour, Alexander Zverev with 10 titles to his name has only reached the Quarter Finals of a slam so far. He is still only 21 years old so he has potential, Tsitsipas who was destroyed by Nadal at the Australian Open semi final has shown flashes of brilliance, but when you consider that Nadal hit him off court with ease and then he himself was dominated by Djokovic in the final in Melbourne, the young Greek has a long way to go. The state of the men's next generation of tennis players is pretty poor if I am honest when concerning Grand Slams compared to past history. If we think of the big 3 plus Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, they all have unique qualities that are exciting to watch and are all capable of magic while on court. Collectively they have won 58 Grand Slams and produced some memorable finals between them. Now consider the young players, with the exception of Tsitsipas who played some inspired tennis in a manner that entertained the crowd in Melbourne to defeat Federer, which young player has really excited you in the men's game? If we turn our attention to the women's game at least Japan's Naomi Osaka at the age of 21 has provided fresh blood and excitement there. She picked up her second Grand Slam last week in the space of 6 months. She is a real threat to every established female player, all of which have far more experience than her at the highest level of the game. She is now the World Number 1 WTA player at such a young age, how refreshing to see! If only the Men's game had such a player coming through to really add a level of unpredictability at the men's major tournaments. While we await our first rookie winner of a slam since 10 years prior, I will take a look at and evaluate the players from the 1990s onwards who I believe are in contention to break the grip of the big 3. 4. Daniil Medvedev I like watching Medvedev play, it amazes me how long he can last in rallies given he is 6ft 6 inches tall and looks like a sloth with a stick in his hand. Last year he won his first 3 ATP titles including a 500 event in Tokyo. This year I will be looking for him to pick up another 500 trophy and possibly a Masters to show he is really making progress. For me Medvedev needs to pick up his aggression at times. His defensive qualities for a tall player are admirable but they won't win him the big trophies because he is simply too tall and cannot outlast the likes of Nadal and Djokovic. Instead he needs a better game plan as he faces the tougher players - he needs to go big on his forehand and be more aggressive. By all means who should try to retain his mobility, he will still need it on return of serve but he shouldn't try to out play defensive players who are far superior than him at outlasting others, especially in best of 5 set matches. We saw how exhausted he looked at the Australian Open after he tried to out rally Djokovic, in the third set he was a spent force and capitulated. Going for more off his forehand is one of the key areas he needs to focus on, that can be a really weapon and he shouldn't hold back on and choose to look for unforced errors instead. His favourite surface is grass so he will no doubt be dreaming of that big Wimbledon victory to claim his maiden Grand Slam but he is also strong on hard courts. Forget about him on clay concerning slams, he has no chance. The Bear is 6-2 already this year, so it's a positive start and he's beaten some top 20 players in January - Milos Raonic and David Goffin, the Russian can only get better and whilst it's a big ask of him to have to even reach a Slam Semi, he is still one of the better younger players coming through and I do think he can atleast reach his first Quarter Final of a Grand Slam this year. 3. Stefanos Tsitsipas You can find numerous articles under my account since 2018 about the young Greek hero, the first Greek tennis player to ever win an ATP title. He's only 20 so he still has time to develop and possibly win a Grand Slam when he is younger but I would like to see him win one against the best still pretty much at their best. Waiting for the likes of Djokovic and Nadal to grow older and possibly be injured at a slam will not bold well for history in terms of people considering someone like Tsitsipas a true great. The same goes for Zverev (though he has beaten both Djokovic and Federer now on several occassions). Big Shoes to Fill... If you have looked at the greats of the past and present, they all have naturally succeeded their predecessors by defeating them early in their careers to claim a slam. Think of how Federer at the age of 19 defeated the current number one Pete Sampras in the Quarter Finals of Wimbledon. Or Nadal who at the age of 18 at the Miami Masters took Federer to five sets and was two points from a straight sets victory before that. At 19 he would go on to defeat Federer at the French Open when the Swiss was the number one seed. Then there's Djokovic, who at the age of 20 at the Rogers Cup, defeated the world number 3 - Andy Roddick in the Quarters, the world number 2 Rafa Nadal in the Semi's and the world number 1 Roger Federer in the final - what an achievement for such a young player! All three of them were 21 or under when they won their first Grand Slam. I could go back further in history to the likes of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Agassi reached a world number 3 ranking at the age of 17, age 19 he reached the semi finals of the French and US. Samprass made the Wimbledon, US Open final and Australian Open Semis at the age of 21. At 22 he gained the world Number one ranking and won the Wimbledon title beating the former world number one Jim Courier in the final before going on to claim the US Open title. All the above clearly demonstrated the Men's tennis game is steeped in history of young rookies coming up quickly and stamping their authority on the game. Tsitsipas has a lot to do if he wants to have any chance of being the next young player to do so early in his career. He will need to quickly adapt his game to take down the likes of Nadal and Djokovic. I do believe he has an outside chance of doing so, but this year I would like to see him claim a few more standard ATP 250 and 500 titles, maybe even a Masters to give him some confidence before he attempts the impossible. Losing three times in a row to Nadal is not a great start and so his confidence will be shot vs the Spanish Bull (who himself looked rather passive in the final last week vs Djokovic). The fact Tsitsipas defeated Djokovic in the Rogers Cup 3rd round last year cannot be considered part of his breakthrough. The Serbian was still finding his feet after injury and was nowhere near his best, that victory vs Djokovic was on the path to one of two finals where he would be crushed by Nadal. I will be keeping a kean eye on Tsitsipas this year and seeing how much he changes his game to be more aggressive in preparation for taking on the Big 3 this year. There's no doubt hes got an all around game he can hone with net skills better than any other young player, but is he special enough to break the stranglehold of the big 3? 2. Dominic Thiem (25 years old) (Austria) He may not have had the hottest year of the younger players in 2018 but he was the only player below 30 to get to a Grand Slam final at Roland Garros, that's an achievement that far outweighs the odd ATP 250 event title and arguably even a 500 or Masters title win. Thiem put himself in the position to win a Grand Slam, he may have gone down in flames vs Nadal but atleast he had the chance and on a different day, who knows? He has beaten Nadal before on clay over best of 3 sets. I like Thiem, he's a power player who has a great one handed backhand so I am a bit perplexed as to why he hasn't had more success on hard courts. Last year that changed somewhat when he picked up his second hard court trophy in St Petersburg. He now has 13 titles to his name and this year he will have his sights set once again on the clay season. The Austrian is considered the more mature of the young players. Given he made the final of both the Madrid Masters and Roland Garros, he will be favoured as the most likely younger player to succeed again on clay this year. But can he go one better at the French Open itself? It's still a lot to ask, given the big 3 will all be fit and raring to go. Even Federer will be in attendance for the first time in 4 years. Thiem's biggest chance will be at the French but don't discount him all together at the US Open, he had a great run last year and nearly defeated Nadal in the Quarterfinals over 5 sets. 1.Alexander Zverev (Most Likely) Zverev is not actually my favoured Grand Slam winner amongst the young players but statistically speaking he is still the most likely to succeed given his 10 ATP titles already won at the age of 21. He has three masters titles to his name (the only other young player to win a masters is Karen Khachanov) and an ATP final trophy where he beat both Federer and Djokovic at the end of 2018. Some will say neither the World Number 1 or 3 had their best performances, but he still beat both in a single tournament. Zverev shows experience and a cool head beyond his age and although he has looked a tad volatile over the past year against some average players, that's just part of the growth pains as he looks to solidify his position within he top 5 players in the world. Now ranked Number 3 in the world Zverev has achieved way more than any other next generation player (Thiem is slightly out of that bracket now) so I am sure he will be pretty disappointed he went out of the Australian Open to Milos Raonic in straight sets - that would have hurt. He will be looking forward to the rest of the hard court season, notably the Rotterdam 500 in February, and the iconic US ATP tournaments of Indian Wells and Miami in March to build some momentum before the clay season starts. Zverev has no weaknesses from the back of the court technically and a strong serve. He does seem to still lack the focus to see out certain matches and his level of play can drop, we saw that in Melbourne where he limped over the finish line against an average French player - Jeremy Chardy before losing to Raonic two rounds later in straight sets. He should look towards improving his net game this year too if he wishes to have a chance vs Nadal where he has lost all 5 of their meetings. That will potentially be his biggest stumbling block to becoming the first player born in the 1990's onwards to win a Slam. Impressively versus Federer and Djokovic he is square on wins 3-3 with both. The other big question mark for me hanging over the young German's head is, is he ready to make the stride from best of 3 to best of 5 set tournaments just yet? Having 10 trophies at the age of 21 is an excellent record in regular ATP events, a brilliant start to his career but can he convert that form to Grand Slams? Thus far the nearest he has got is a quarter final appearance in last years French Open, he failed to back that up with any meaningful progress at either Wimbledon or the US Open. Let's wait for the French!