The biggest novelty in ATP’s schedule in 2017 was the addition of the ‘NextGen ATP Finals’, which will showcase some of the best emerging talents in the world. This tournament will be the season-ending event for the highest ranked players on the Tour aged 21 or under.
Format of the Tournament
In order to make this new tournament more exciting and refreshing, the ATP has decided to test a new match format for the occasion.
- New Scoring Format: Matches will be Best-of-five sets, but with first to four games instead of the traditional six.
- Fast Paced: There will be no lets and no advantage, making the games not only shorter, but also more unpredictable. This way, there should be more breaks and momentum swings, thus making the matches exciting.
- Every Second Counts: Faster shot clocks will make matches even more fast paced, making the matches enjoyable to watch to a broader audience.
While tennis purists might not like this whole new concept, it will showcase new players, performing in a new match format favorable to quick turnarounds and upsets. Furthermore, young players also means they are less experienced and steady throughout a match, so in that regard, testing out this new match concept makes sense for the ATP.
Which Players Will Qualify?
Now that I’ve said why this concept is something to be excited about, what about the players that will qualify? First, it is important to keep in mind that the top 7 players in the Emirates ATP Race to Milan will qualify and that the eighth spot will be reserved for a wild card (determined by a popular vote). So, without further ado, here are my predictions!
1. Alexander Zverev
Without a doubt, Zverev will be the leading figure of the Next Gen ATP Finals. He is currently almost 2,000 points ahead of everyone in the race and will be the overwhelming favorite to win this tournament. He won a Masters 1000 event earlier this year in Roma and just reached the 2nd week of a Grand Slam for the first time of his career at Wimbledon. Unless he gets injured, Zverev qualifying for this event is a given. The big question is whether he’ll be able to qualify for the real ATP Finals.
2. Karen Khachanov
Even if he still lacks the consistency of a veteran to climb up the ATP Rankings, Khachanov is one of the NextGen talents with the best upside. He has all the weapons necessary to have success on the tour and should not have any difficulty qualifying for the NextGen ATP Finals.
3. Borna Coric
After reaching a career-high ranking of #33 in 2015 at only 18 years old, Coric had various injuries to his knee, shoulder, and hip that hindered his progression on the Tour. Even if he is still young at 20, Coric has to prove that he is still one of the top up-and-comers on the circuit because many have already stopped believing in him.
4. Frances Tiafoe
Tiafoe, Escobedo and Donaldson are actually very close in the Race to Milan, but I believe Tiafoe is the most talented of the three. He is a year younger than the other two and broke the top-100 just after celebrating his 19th birthday. Plus, he has far more experience on hard courts and should have a decent hard court season at home. A little off-topic, but how can you not cheer for such an unconventional and exciting player?
5. Daniil Medvedev
Quite quietly, Daniil Medvedev made his way up to the top-50 before Wimbledon, where he stunned 5th seed Stan Wawrinka in the opening round. Even if he’s had some controversial and edgy behaviors up to this point of his career, his play style is the absolute contrary: steady, meticulous and precise. I would be greatly surprised if he did not qualify for the NextGen ATP Finals in November.
6. Andrey Rublev
Andrey Rublev is another young successful Russian that has not yet been publicized that much by the media. He went up 82 spots in the rankings since the start of the 2017 season to his career-high at #74. He also came out the qualification stages of all 3 Grand Slams this year and should be granted a direct entry to the US Open. In 2017, he has shown improvements and has proven that his career is going in the right direction. Look forward to hear more about this player.
7. Hyeon Chung
As of now, Hyeon Chung has a positive 13-8 record on the ATP in 2017, including wins against A. Zverev, Querrey and Coric. Since losing in 5 sets against Nishikori at the French Open, Chung has not played a single match during the grass season, but he is still in position to qualify for the NextGen ATP Finals. If he comes back healthy for the hard court season, he should be able to earn a spot for the tournament.
Wild Card: Thanasi Kokkinakis
In the past two years, Kokkinakis has been plagued by injuries. It was really a shame for him, because many seem to forget that he cracked the top-70 back in 2015 at only 19 years old. He played only one match in the 2016 calendar and also missed the first four months of 2017 due to a shoulder injury. However, the “Kokk” is now back on tour and remains a popular upcoming figure. Will he make it to the NextGen ATP Finals? Let’s see.
Since the 8th spot will be chosen on a popularity vote, I believe he has good chances of being selected. If we use his name as a search term and compare his worldwide interest to, for example, American player Taylor Fritz, we can see that Kokkinakis has been way more popular lately. Thus, I believe Kokkinakis will be the “Wild Card” for this NextGen ATP Finals.
Missing the Cut
Out of all players that I think will miss the cut, Taylor Fritz is probably the played that received the most hype. He had an outstanding 2016 year, recording 15 wins on the ATP tour and was one of the most important faces of this NextGen ATP Finals tournament. However, he recently got engaged, had a baby in January and up to this point, his 2017 season has not met expectations.
Fritz is just 19 years old and should be able to bounce back from this season, but his personal life and tennis life might just be a little too much to handle at such a young age. He could end up being invited as the Wild Card to this event, but I don’t see him qualifying.
In 2017, Donaldson’s ATP points and rankings have been inflated a little bit at this point: he’s been a lucky loser in two tournaments (Madrid and Rome) and won a 3rd round match of a Masters event in Miami by walkover against Milos Raonic, whom he would probably not have beaten. At this point in time, I feel like other NextGen players have a better shot at qualifying for this event.
Can someone explain me how Escobedo got his actual ATP ranking? He is currently ranked 67th in the world, but he’s only won 2 matches against top-50 players in his career. He is 21 years old and never cracked the top-200 before the age of 20. At this point, I am intrigued by the fast rise of this player. I might be wrong, and he might just be a late bloomer, but I feel like he is less of a threat than the other NextGen players.
In 2016, we sort of discovered this new American giant during the American swing, where he had impressive results in Atlanta and Cincinnati. However, his 2017 year has been sub-par, not to say disastrous. He will have a lot of points to defend this summer and could fall out of the top-200 if he does not find his game back.
Just by looking at the current race, we can safely say that Bublik qualifying for the event is a long shot. He has been having fun on the tour by doing various funny interviews, but in terms of results, he does not stand out of the pack. I’m curious to see if Bublik will be dedicated enough to be successful on the ATP tour.
It feels like Ymer’s window of opportunity is closing on him a little bit. He reached the top-200 at the beginning of 2015 and has fluctuated between 100 and 200 for a little more than 2 years. Right now, he has dropped out of the top-200 and is ranked at #237. At this point, I do not see Ymer as a NextGen superstar.
Finally, I decided not to include Canadian players Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime in this list because I still consider them too young to really be in the race this year. They are both super promising, but mostly still play at the challenger level, so they will have the chance to qualify in the upcoming years if the ATP continues with this NextGen ATP Finals concept.
Can you think of another player that has a decent shot at making the NextGen ATP Finals this year? If you do, please let me know, I would be glad to hear from you!