When will next generation of tennis overtake the Big Three?

Getty Images
8 Comments

MIAMI — The next generation of men’s tennis remains a jumble of unrealized potential.

With Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer skipping the Miami Open, the tournament was expected to bring the game’s new faces into sharper focus. Instead, the outlook remains fuzzy as the clay season begins.

Sunday’s match between No. 37-ranked Hubert Hurkacz and No. 31 Jannik Sinner was the first ATP Masters 1000 final since 2003 with two players ranked outside the top 30. Hurkacz became the lowest-ranked champion in the ATP’s top-level series since 2005.

Meanwhile, for players touted as future Grand Slam champions, Miami represented an opportunity missed. Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev failed to make it even to the semifinals.

“With the Big Three absent, I think all the NextGen guys were trying their best to play their best game, to compete as hard as they can,” Hurkacz said. “Hopefully the spectators enjoyed it.”

But what should fans make of it? Twenty-somethings have been trying to overtake the Big Three for years, and no front-runner for 2021 emerged in Miami.

Medvedev, seeded No. 1 at a Masters 1000 event for the first time, was upset in the fourth round by Roberto Bautista Agut. No. 2 Tsitsipas exited in the same round with a loss to Hurkacz.

“I felt like it was my opportunity,” Tsitsipas said. “There was more space for me to show something greater.”

No. 3 Zverev flopped worst of all, double-faulting three times on break point in a loss to No. 83-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori. No. 4 Andrey Rublev, a Russian who leads the tour with 20 wins this year, reached the semifinals before Hurkacz upset him.

This all came after Nadal and Federer withdrew before the tournament started due to injuries, while Djokovic decided to stay home in Serbia amid the pandemic.

For Hurkacz, 24, the title is by far the biggest of his career, and the first for a Polish player in a Masters 1000 event. But he won’t be among the favorites at the French Open.

In sum, no 20-something appears poised to wrest the mantle from the 30-somethings who have dominated the sport for so long. Dominic Thiem won his first major title at the U.S. Open in September, but he is just 5-4 this year and skipped Miami.

“The next generation still has to show they can beat the Big Three,” Sinner said. “The next generation is not ready yet to win against them consistently. At some point there will be the moment; I don’t know when. It can be two years or five years, I don’t know. But the moment will come.”

Perhaps Grand Slam greatness will skip a generation, and it will be someone now a teenager who supplants the Big Three. Sinner, a 19-year-old baseline basher from Italy, took a giant leap in Miami, just his third Masters 1000 event.

Also making a splash was unseeded 20-year-old American Sebastian Korda, who reached the quarterfinals before losing to Rublev. Korda, the son of former Australian Open champion Petr Korda, is widely considered the best hope to end an 18-year drought in major titles for U.S. men.

He sounds more patient than some fans.

“My parents are super big on baby steps,” Korda said. “You can play tennis for so long if you stay healthy – for 15-plus years. Guys now are playing until 40; it’s incredible. There are a lot of years ahead of me.

“I’ll always put my head down and keep working, and hopefully one day I could achieve something like what my dad achieved.”

Korda and Sinner have considerable flair and star appeal, as do Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev.

“The future of tennis looks great, because the generation is changing,” Rublev said. “The NextGen players, they are different. They look different compared with previous ones. I think they have charisma.”

Charisma, yes, but not yet many trophies.

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

LONDON – Former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco accepted a voluntary provisional doping suspension of two months after testing positive for a medication for ADHD, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Verdasco, who turned 39 this month, said he was taking methylphenidate as medication prescribed by his doctor to treat ADHD but forgot to renew his therapeutic use exemption for the drug. The integrity agency said Verdasco has now been granted an exemption by the World Anti-Doping Agency moving forward.

He tested positive at an ATP Challenger tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February.

The integrity agency said in a news release that it “accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” and so what could have been a two-year suspension was reduced to two months.

Verdasco will be eligible to compete on Jan. 8.

The Spaniard is a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, reaching that stage most recently in 2013 at Wimbledon, where he blew a two-set lead in a five-set loss to eventual champion Andy Murray.

Verdasco reached a career-best ranking of No. 7 in April 2009 and currently is No. 125.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

MALAGA, Spain — Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to his back behind the baseline, then waited for teammates to race off Canada’s bench and pile on top of him.

A few minutes later, the Canadians finally could lift the Davis Cup.

“I think of us all here, we’ve dreamt of this moment,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Canada won the title for the first time, beating Australia behind victories from Denis Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime secured the winning point when he downed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4 after Shapovalov opened the day by rolling past Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4.

Seven years after leading Canada to the top of junior tennis, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and their teammates finally got to lift the biggest team trophy in their sport.

“We wanted to grow up and be part of the team and try to help the country win the first title,” Shapovalov said, “so everything is just so surreal right now.”

Shapovalov had dropped both his singles matches this week and needed treatment on his back during a three-set loss in the semifinals to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy that lasted 3 hours, 15 minutes. But the left-hander moved quickly around the court, setting up angles to put away winners while racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set.

Auger-Aliassime then finished off his superb second half of the season by completing a perfect week in Spain. He twice had kept the Canadians alive after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match, and he replaced his weary teammate to join Vasek Pospisil for the decisive doubles point.

This time, Auger-Aliassime made sure the doubles match wouldn’t even be necessary. After his teammates poured onto the court to celebrate with him, they got up and danced around in a circle.

Canada had reached the final only once, falling to host Spain in Madrid in 2019, when Rafael Nadal beat Shapovalov for the clinching point after Auger-Aliassime had lost in the opening match.

But with Auger-Aliassime having since surged up the rankings to his current spot at No. 6, the Canadians are a much more formidable team now. They won the ATP Cup in January and finally added the Davis Cup crown to the junior Davis Cup title Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov led them to in 2015.

Australia was trying for its 29th title and first since current captain Lleyton Hewitt was part of the title-winning team in 2003.

But it was finally time for the Canadians, who were given a wild card into the field when Russia was suspended because of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Look, I think we were very close today,” de Minaur said. “Just wait until the next time we get the same matchup. Hopefully we can get the win and prove that we can do it.”

But Canada will be tough to beat as long as Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov play.

Shapovalov is just 23 and Auger-Aliassime 22, but both already have been Grand Slam semifinalists and Auger-Aliassime ended 2022 as one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour. He won all of his four titles this year, including three straight weeks in October.

He also beat Carlos Alcaraz in the previous Davis Cup stage in September, just after the Spaniard had won the U.S. Open to rise to No. 1 in the rankings. That victory helped send the Canadians into the quarterfinals, which they started this week by edging Germany.

“They’re not kids anymore, that’s for sure. Not after today – well not after the last couple of years,” said Pospisil, the team veteran at 32. “They’ve been crushing it.”