By: Chris Lewis
Four upcoming stars will likely enjoy memorable victories for years to come.
As everyone in the tennis industry continues to welcome a new year with opened arms—cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season in the midst of the global pandemic—one fact remains clear: the future of tennis is definitely in good hands.
Without question, tennis’s future stars are, despite their youth, fully prepared for the challenges of Grand Slam tournaments, as evidenced by their results last season, with major winners ranging from 19-year-old Iga Świątek (French Open) and 21-year-old Sofia Kenin (Australian Open), to 23-year-old Naomi Osaka (US Open) and 27-year-old Dominic Thiem (US Open). And they’re certainly up to the challenges of competing one-on-one with tennis’s biggest names: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, among others.
But there is an even younger group of up and comers that tennis professionals, commentators and fans should be aware of—rising male stars that have the ability to carry the mantle as legends like Djokovic, Federer and Nadal prepare for the last chapters of their careers. Ranging from 25-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios and 19-year-old American Brandon Nakashima, to 22-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas and 23-year-old German Alexander Zverev, these four talents will soon prove that tennis’s future (despite the uncertainties of the last few months, due to COVID-19) remains as bright as ever.
Nick Kyrgios: A $9 Million Winner
A former world number one as a junior, Nick Kyrgios has since won six ATP tournaments, while also reaching eight ATP finals overall. Ranked in the top 50 in the world ranking, Kyrgios has compiled a singles record of 161-95 so far, won nearly $9 million in prize money and reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 Wimbledon Championships and the 2015 Australian Open.
Only the third player to defeat Djokovic, Federer and Nadal the first time he competed against each of them, Kyrgios also has one doubles title, as he has a 41-43 record so far. Born in Australia in 1995, Kyrgios also achieved Grand Slam success as a junior, winning the boys’ singles event at the 2013 Australian Open and the boys’ doubles event at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships.
Brandon Nakashima: Leaving College to Become a Professional
A winner of two ITF singles titles, Brandon Nakashima was a student at the University of Virginia, where he compiled a 17-5 singles record and a 20-3 doubles record, was named the ACC Freshman of the Year and received All ACC First Team and All ACC Academic Team honors. And then, after just one highly successful semester, he decided to forego the rest of his eligibility and become a professional.
To some, the decision may have been viewed as a bit premature, as he could have finished his college career, earned his bachelor’s degree and compiled more collegiate victories, prior to becoming a professional. However, Nakashima has since proven that his decision was indeed correct, as he received a wild card to the Delray Beach Open—his first ever ATP main draw event—and reached the quarterfinals. He has since reached the top 200 of the world rankings too.
“I want to take my game to the next level and hopefully win an ATP tournament,” he says. “I am really looking forward to [this] year.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas: Quickly Ascending the Rankings
Born in Athens in 1998, Stefanos Tsitsipas won his first ATP match in 2017. From there, he began to quickly ascend in the world rankings, ultimately reaching a career high ranking of No. 5 in 2019 (he was No. 6 as recently as November 2020). This quick ascent in the rankings was primarily due to his consistency, as he has compiled a career record of 133-76 so far, won 5 ATP titles and reached the semifinals at the 2019 Australian Open and the 2020 French Open.
A former world number one as a junior, Tsitsipas also reached the quarterfinals of all four junior Grand Slam tournaments and won Wimbledon in doubles, thereby becoming the first Greek male to win a junior Grand Slam in the Open era. In addition to all of these successes, he’s also the youngest player to defeat Djokovic, Federer and Nadal—doing so before he was 21 years old.
Alexander Zverev: Preparing for Grand Slam Victories
Compiling a 251-125 singles record so far, Alexander Zverev has also ascended to nearly the top of the world rankings, reaching a career high of No. 3 in 2017 (and ranking No. 7 as recently as November 2020). A former world number one as a junior, Zverev won a junior Grand Slam singles title at the 2014 Australian Open, a sign of what was to come.
A winner of 13 career singles tiles, he has also finished runner-up at a Grand Slam (the 2020 US Open, after reaching his first Grand Slam final) and been praised by the likes of Djokovic and Nadal, who consider him to be a future star.
“I’m only 23 years old,” he adds. “I do believe I will be a Grand Slam champion at some point.”