From #NextGenATP To Top 10 Talent, Who'll Graduate From Class of 2021?
Keep your eyes on Carlos Alcaraz, Sebastian Korda and the rest of the stars at this week's Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. History shows that players who compete in the 21-and-under season finale move towards the top of the game quickly.
Daniil Medvedev is the only player to defeat Novak Djokovic in 28 major matches this season. The Russian’s maiden Grand Slam trophy made him the first champion from his country in New York since Marat Safin 21 years ago. He also became the first Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals alumnus to win a major, nearly four years after his debut in Milan.
In the three years that the championships for the best 21-and-under players has been held, many have already made huge strides on the ATP Tour. Six of the current Top 10 – Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner and Hubert Hurkacz – have contested the event.
And as fans prepare to descend on Milan for the fourth edition, they have ample reason to believe the likes of Alcaraz and Korda could go on to stamp their respective marks as among the sport’s very best.
Medvedev, who reached his first tour-level final in 2017, was the final automatic qualifier for the inaugural Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals that year and fell to eventual champion Hyeon Chung in the semi-finals. He landed his maiden Grand Slam match win that season over World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon.
Like Medvedev, Spanish 18-year-old Alcaraz notched his biggest career victory to date over a World No. 3, Tstisipas, in the third round of this year’s US Open. The Murcia native, a protégé of former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, already claimed his first title this season in Umag and was one of the first four qualifiers for Milan.
“Carlos is an amazing player,” Medvedev said after he defeated the teenager in their only prior ATP Head2Head meeting in the second round at Wimbledon this year. “Grass is definitely not his best surface, but he was giving it all there. Of course [in the] second and third sets, maybe the gap was too high. But I'm sure he's going to be sooner or later in the Top 10 and maybe even higher.”
Medvedev and Tsitsipas are the two players who have competed in Milan and become a Nitto ATP Finals champion. Tsitsipas is the only player who has won both titles.
The Greek was an alternate at the 2017 event in Milan, but defeated Alex de Minaur for the trophy in 2018. Only 12 months later, he beat Medvedev, Zverev, Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem to land the Nitto ATP Finals crown.
Tsitsipas has since soared as high as World No. 3 in a career-best season, which includes his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo and his maiden Grand Slam final at Roland Garros. World No. 6 Rublev was the only player to compete in the first two editions in Milan, finishing runner-up in 2017 and in third place in 2018.
The 24-year-old has since won a tour-leading five titles in 2020 and reached his first two Masters 1000 finals this season in Monte Carlo and Cincinnati. He also clinched an Olympic mixed doubles gold medal with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Ruud has made a habit of passing his father's previous benchmarks for Norwegian tennis in 2021 and has surged from World No. 27 to his current mark of World No. 8 after his fifth title of the season at San Diego. Ruud competed in Milan two years ago.
In less than two years, Sinner has gone from Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals champion to the Top 10, following his run to the semi-finals in Vienna and on the heels of his fourth title of the season in Antwerp. In 2019, he became the first Italian wild card to win a match in Milan and went all the way to the title with victory over De Minaur.
Poland’s Hurkacz, like Ruud, will make his Nitto ATP Finals debut in 2021. The last automatic qualifier for Milan in 2018, Hurkacz cracked the Top 10 in October this year as a result of three titles, including his first Masters 1000 trophy in Miami.
This year's competitors have earned a commendable achievement by reaching Milan. And history shows the future will be even brighter.