If the Big Three have taught us anything, it’s that the lifespan of the elite tennis player is a whole lot longer than we once thought. Today, some of the ATP’s top performers aren’t hitting their stride until their late 20s, and are often still pulling in big trophies in their early/mid/late 30s.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a youthful insurrection. As we saw at the US Open, there are several newcomers intent on making their presence known in a hurry. Here are five young guns who could make a push for the title at the 2021 BNP Paribas Open:
1 | Jannik Sinner (ITA)
Known For… Becoming the first debutant to reach the Roland Garros quarterfinals (2020) since Rafael Nadal in 2005.
The free-swinging 20-year-old already owns four career titles, his most recent coming last week in Sofia. The youngest-ever Italian to break into the Top-15 also captured trophies this year in Melbourne (Great Ocean Road Open) and Washington. “When you play against the best, you have to go out on the court and really play your best tennis,” said Sinner, who chose tennis over skiing. “I think there is still much work to do, to be honest. A lot of experience to put in, working hard as we are doing now and trying to play important matches and important moments of a match.”
2 | Carlos Alcaraz (ESP)
Known For… Stunning World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal last month at the US Open.
The comparisons to his countryman Rafael Nadal have proliferated since he was first spotted by former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero at a local tournament in Spain, only 14 but already showing world-class promise. Many fans on this side of the Atlantic got their first up-close glimpse of the young star this summer in Flushing Meadows, where he won over the New York crowd with his ahead-of-his-years composure and firepower. After stunning Tsitsipas in a raucous Arthur Ashe Stadium, the teen said, “I have no words to explain how I’m feeling right now. I just don’t know what happened out there on the court. I can’t believe that I beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic match.” Said the vanquished Greek, “I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard.” While Alcaraz indeed has some of Rafa’s fight, he says his game is more like that of rival Roger Federer.
3 | Lorenzo Musetti (ITA)
Known For… Pushing World No. 1 Novak Djokovic to a fifth set at Roland Garros in June.
Musetti is part of an Italian Renaissance that has also seen the emergence of countrymen Matteo Berrettini, Jannik Sinner, Lorenzo Sonego, etc. In 2020, the graceful performer with the one-handed backhand stunned Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori to reach the quarterfinals at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome. This year, he owns wins over the likes of Diego Schwartzman, Frances Tiafoe, Grigor Dimitrov, Hubert Hurkacz, Felix Auger-Aliassime and David Goffin. Benvenuto, Mr. Musetti.
4 | Jenson Brooksby (USA)
Known For… Keeping his opponents off balance en route to the Round of 16 at the US Open, where he took a set off of the calendar-year-Slam-seeking Novak Djokovic.
The Californian all but surfaced out of nowhere this year, reeling off Challenger titles in Potchefstroom; South Africa; Tallahassee; and Orlando, before reaching his first ATP Tour final in his grass-court debut in Newport, the second-youngest finalist in the tournament’s 45-year history. At the US Open, he showed that he’s not overwhelmed in big-stage moments. He gives his opponents a different look on the court, but it might just be his youth-fueled fearlessness that’s his biggest weapon. “I do have the confidence in myself that I can go really far in whatever tournament I play,” he said.
5 | Brandon Nakashima (USA)
Known For… Becoming the youngest American to advance to multiple finals (Los Cabos, Atlanta) since Andy Roddick in 2001-02.
The former UVA standout and 2019 ACC Freshman of the Year is blessed with some serious work ethic, a quality that’s bringing on-court results in his first full season on the ATP Tour. The former World No. 3 junior arrived in the desert at a career-high No. 83 after reaching back-to-back finals at Los Cabos and Atlanta. He defeated 22nd-ranked countryman John Isner to reach the second round of the US Open. The San Diegan credits the competition at the Futures/Challenger level with much of his progress: “Those guys are grinding a lot, going from tournament to tournament. It’s not always the nicest conditions out there. Those guys are grinders and scrappers. They try to get to that next level with these ATP events.”