As a glance at the two-man list of 2017 Grand Slam winners attests, the evidence to indicate an imminent usurpation of the old guard can be considered fragmentary at best. Bar a Masters 1000 crown for Sascha Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov here, or a breathtaking display from Denis Shapovalov there, not a lot about the output of the ATP elite’s budding successors hints at a sea change in men’s tennis’ prohibitive complexion. Mercifully, things can only get better from here. Just as golden eras don’t last indefinitely, neither too does stagnancy.
Over the past 48 hours, I have twice been reassured that there is enough talent in the pool of ATP newcomers to topple the Fedal-fronted ancien régime. Monday evening produced the intrigue of Frances Tiafoe putting Sebastian Korda through his paces at the New York Open, the tournament transplanted to Long Island just this year from its long-time home in Memphis. Keen followers of junior tennis will be aware that Korda is both the reigning Australian Open boy’s champion and the player ranked highest in the ITF junior standings. On his tour-level debut, 17-year-old Korda showed every inch of his promise by outplaying Tiafoe in the first set. Although he subsequently lost in three, Korda gave his marginally older opponent plenty to think about in the opening round clash at the Nassau Coliseum.
The son of 1998 Australian Open winner Petr Korda, Sebastian was born and raised in Brandenton, Florida; as such, he is as happy to call himself an American as his Prague-born naturalized father. What this choice of national affiliation means is that the generation of U.S. tennis players currently in their early 20s—made up of Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Jared Donaldson, Ernesto Escobedo, Chris Eubanks, Mackenzie McDonald, Noah Rubin and Tommy Paul—may someday see the collective sum of their prospective achievements dwarfed by a single, younger compatriot.
No member of the American ‘Next Gen’ cohort is exactly heaping their junior and/or college tennis resume(s) with the sheen of ATP tour success; excluding Donaldson (world No.55), none of them sit comfortably in the top 100 (behind Donaldson, the respective rankings of Fritz and Tiafoe are 86 and 98). I fully expect Korda to buck the middling trend that prevails in American tennis. His superbly well-rounded game avails him of multiple ways to finish points; from both the baseline and the forecourt, he can rely on an array of weaponry that exceeds the prosaic serve-and-first-strike-forehand skillset of his stateside peers.
A second debutant extraordinaire, Félix Auger-Aliassime, made a splash at the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam yesterday by pushing 2017 Paris Masters finalist Filip Krajinović to three sets—the final score was 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 to Serbia’s No.2. Well prior to making this first, wild-card-enabled tour-level outing, the Canadian staked a claim to recognition as tennis’ most prodigiously gifted teenager by sustaining a brilliant run of form at Challenger tournaments. Last year, victories in Lyon and Seville launched Auger-Aliassime into the top 200, making him the youngest player to reach that milestone since Rafael Nadal in 2002, as well as the second youngest to land multiple titles at this level of competition in one season. Still only aged 17, Auger-Aliassime is on a fast track to crack the top 100 and shoot inexorably into the stratospheres beyond.
Towering comfortably above six feet while built robustly enough to avoid beanpole territory, Auger-Aliassime and Korda alike are specimens perfectly suited to the modern game. Athleticism, explosiveness and endurance: the prototype embodied by these youngsters is sporting evolution incarnate. Assuming they continue to mature at a good clip, Auger-Aliassime and Korda are two of the most viable candidates to be the next dominant force in this sport.
Edited for readability.