Young stars Tsitsipas, Medvedev & Zverev continue to shine in Basel, but Edmund’s run ends in Vienna
Alexander Zverev is among the players through to the quarter finals in Basel
Last week saw the number of debut titlists for 2018 rise to 13, as 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas won his first in Stockholm, and Kyle Edmund made the breakthrough in Antwerp.
The extraordinary young Greek was ranked 91 at the start of the year, reached his first final in Barcelona and his next at the Toronto Masters—no shame, either, in being beaten by world No1 Rafael in both.
Now he has made his 10th quarter-final of the year in Basel, his 41st match-win of the year, with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over German Peter Gojowczyk. There, he will face another young player who has taken huge strides this season, 22-year-old Daniil Medvedev.
The Russian has won no fewer than three titles this year, including his most recent, the prestigious ATP500 in Tokyo, and via qualifying. He was ranked down at 84 nine months ago, but he too notched up his 41st win in Basel with victory over Andreas Seppi, 7-6(5), 6-2.
The two young men stand alongside one another in the Race to London, at 14 and 15 respectively, and whichever makes the semis will, for the umpteenth time in 2018, hit a new career-high.
Just as exciting, though, theirs is shaping up to be one of the rivalries of the coming few years. Medvedev has got the better of their previous two matches, at this year’s Miami Masters and the US Open. This time, it could well swing in the Greek’s favour.
In the bottom half of the Basel draw, 21-year-old Alexander Zverev has already qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the second time, and is another of this young generation to have won three titles this year, including the Madrid Masters—one of three Masters finals this season.
He came through a potentially difficult opener against Robin Haase to become the first man this year to reach 50 match-wins, and it did not stop there. Playing an even younger man, qualifier Alexei Popyrin—one to watch, who started 2018 at 621 and will break 150 next week—Zverev reached the quarters and what should prove a probing test by No8 seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
Basel is not the only 500 tournament on the go this week, however. A hop, skip and a jump away is Vienna, where top seed Dominic Thiem consolidated his attack on one of the remaining places at the World Tour Finals with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Sam Querrey to reach the Vienna quarters.
That set what promises to be a fascinating clash with Kei Nishikori, who is competing for a place of his own in London—and has been playing some of his best tennis since his comeback earlier this year from wrist injury. Thus far, the world No11 has beaten Frances Tiafoe and Karen Khachenov, himself the third young champion last week in Moscow.
At the bottom of the draw, the still youthful Borna Coric, age 21, continued to impress two years after the Croatian teenager made his first two finals. His precocious rise to No33 in the ranks at the age of 18 was subsequently thwarted by knee surgery—but talent will out, and this year he beat Roger Federer to claim the Halle title, and last week made his first Masters final in Shanghai.
His gritty attitude and physical resilience have brought him back twice from a set down this week, too, against a former top-20 player, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and then against former No10 Lucas Pouille. He is, then, still in the hunt for the ultimate accolade, a spot in London, but then so is his formidable quarter-final opponent, No2 seed Kevin Anderson, who has enjoyed the best 12 months of his career to reach No8.
But while Anderson may have won his first three matches against Coric, the player who is 11 years his junior won their last, in a final set tie-break at Indian Wells in March. This one could be a cracker.
But what of Edmund, who went into his second-round match in Vienna still with an outside chance of qualifying for London? The 23-year-old Briton started 2018 ranked 50, reached his first Major semi-final in Australia, his first final in Marrakech, and got his first title in a thrilling 3-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(4) win over Gael Monfils.
He had a tough draw in Vienna, but came through his first test over dangerous No17 Diego Schwartzman. Could he do the same against former top-10 Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco?
In a battle of big serve-and-forehands, the match started unexpectedly, with an exchange of breaks. Verdasco, though, got another to edge a 4-2 lead. Missing more than half his first serves, the Spaniard offered three break chances in the eighth game, but Edmund could not convert, and Verdasco served out the first set, 6-4, with a huge serve-forehand one-two.
Verdasco had proven the more aggressive, 13 winners to seven from the Briton, yet his error count was higher, his first serve standard lower. There was, in short, little between them.
Sure enough, Edmund got the jump in the second set, breaking in the second game, but facing break-back point in the third. He held, and then fought off another break chance in the fifth to lead 4-1. Edmund sealed the set just as Verdasco had the first: big serve and forehand finish, 6-3, and in an identical time of 40 minutes.
The third set also brought an early chance to break, this time for Verdasco, though he failed to capitalise. But finally, the Spaniard did get the breakthrough to lead 5-3, courtesy of an off forehand hit wide by Edmund. Verdasco made no mistake in serving out the match to love, 6-3, with one final forehand winner.
Verdasco will play either Gael Monfils or John Isner in the quarter-finals, a set of 30-somethings still playing top-quality tennis amongst a slew of men over a decade their juniors. It all promises a fascinating climax in Europe.