French Open 2017: Mixed results for the ‘Next Gen’ as Zverev stumbles
Failing to pick up points at a Slam in this early stage of a career comes with the upside that the likes of Alexander Zverev
Clay is the most unforgiving surface on which to play, and many of the young stars of the ATP tour found the courts of Roland Garros to be tough hosts.
Alexander Zverev arrived in France in high spirits and top form but the leader of the race to the Next Generation ATP Finals in Milan in November, a competition for the hottest prospects aged 21 and under, failed to accumulate any more points at this particular Grand Slam.
The reason Zverev arrived with lofty ambitions and expectations was because of his outstanding performance in claiming a Masters 1000 title in Rome, with the young German toppling Novak Djokovic in the final and powering his way to an all-time high ATP ranking of 10. Zverev was seen as a dangerous possible opponent for an inconsistent Andy Murray at the quarter-final stage, but it failed to transpire that way.
Zverev was unfortunate to be drawn in the first round against Fernando Verdasco, one of the most dangerous unseeded players.
The Spaniard can generally pose a threat for parts of matches against top players, but struggles to find the consistency to turn spells of dominance into magical wins. However, Verdasco’s clay expertise was sufficient to beat a relatively lethargic Zverev, perhaps fatigued by his exploits in Rome.
Ultimately, it has been an extremely successful season for Zverev so far, and other Next Gen players have similarly displayed exciting progression. Failing to pick up points at a Slam in this early stage of a career comes with the upside that the likes of Zverev will have no points to defend at Roland Garros next season, subsequently having scope to haul in considerable totals of ranking points at the 2018 French Open.
Zverev will also have more time to recuperate after a strenuous period of matches, and prepare for the transition to the grass-court season. The German has shown an aptitude for all surfaces so far in his young career, and this is reflected by bet365 in the tennis betting, where the odds of Zverev capturing the Wimbledon title are 25/1. These are the same odds as Stan Wawrinka, a man who has won multiple Grand Slams and is one of the leading players in the game, so this is clear evidence of how Zverev is expected to reach the top of the game in the not-too-distant future.
Elsewhere, the Russian starlet Karen Khachanov shocked the experienced Tomas Berdych in straight sets and dealt with John Isner’s booming serve with relative ease in the third round. Khachanov’s reward was an encounter with Andy Murray in the round of 16, and the best player in the world found his form for this occasion. However, Khachanov impressed many by holding his own against some of the world’s finest, and there is no doubt that he will feature in Grand Slam quarter-finals sooner rather than later.
Second to Zverev in the race to Milan, Borna Coric has enjoyed an upturn in form of late and fell to Steve Johnson in a prolonged battle in the second round. Hyeon Chung went one step further, eventually falling to the eighth seed Kei Nishikori in a five-set thriller in the third round. The young South Korean will be heartened to have pushed a Grand Slam finalist so far, and Chung did manage to take the fourth set 6-0 in an aberration that Nishikori will want to forget.
Many of the Next Gen players found the first round a tough obstacle to negotiate. In addition to the aforementioned Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Jared Donaldson and Frances Tiafoe all fell to early defeats. Tiafoe, perhaps the most promising of an exciting crop of young Americans, gave the enigmatic Fabio Fognini a tough match but the Italian ultimately prevailed. However, Grand Slams are ruthless environments with heightened tensions and will become easier with experience. These young players can continue to hone their undoubted talent on the ATP tour, and will return to Roland Garros next year with renewed enthusiasm.