Without a doubt, Brad Gilbert is a legend in the tennis world. From winning 20 titles and hitting a career-high No. 4, to coaching greats such as Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, Gilbert has succeeded in many different facets of tennis.
With his uncanny ability to take players into greatness (Agassi won six of his eight Grand Slam titles under Gilbert’s guidance) I was a little surprised to see his Top 8 list of next generation players.
Gilbert’s list was in response to a tweet where Pat McEnroe (wildly unaccomplished in comparison to Gilbert) ranked the “next-generation” of tennis players. His list included five current ATP Young Guns, but instead of placing Nick Kyrgios at the top of the list as Gilbert did, McEnroe chose Alexander Zverev as his No. 1.
When I saw that Gilbert has chosen Kyrgios as the future of men’s tennis, I was like…
Mostly because Gilbert’s game was extremely strategic (high, deep balls aimed to destroy his opponent’s pace, coupled with his ability to close out the net when his opponent tried to be defensive) and Kyrgios seems unfamiliar with what “strategy” even means.
Between Kyrgios and Zverev as the future of men’s tennis, I choose neither. My choice is world No. 15 Dominic Thiem, who is older than both the latter choices, but has his claws inside the Top 10.
I can’t support Kyrgios as the future of men’s tennis because of his attitude. Tennis is a classy sport in comparison to others. It’s not the NFL or the NBA where someone is getting arrested every other week for domestic violence or having a myriad drugs and guns in its car. It’s one of the last sports that hasn’t been completely tainted by unchecked egos and distasteful behavior.
The general argument with Kyrgios is that he’s a modern-day John McEnroe, but I don’t accept this. I wasn’t a tennis fan during McEnroe’s days (heck, I wasn’t even alive for any of it), so I won’t speak on his behavior and how it impacted the sport. But, I have watched several Kyrgios matches, including the match in Montreal with the infamous sledge against Wawrinka, and every time he leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
His antics diminish what he can accomplish on the court. He’s shown that he can challenge the best, as he has a 5-5 record versus the Top 10, which includes wins over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. But more often than not, when he gets down, he starts to tank, which is offensive to not only himself and his opponent, but to those in his group who have put in countless hours to get Kyrgios to the top.
On the other hand, Thiem steps on the court to only play tennis. His ability to focus on tennis — and only tennis, not whether or not his brother is vocally supporting him enough — is why he’s won three titles in four finals in 2016. He hit a career high ranking of No. 13 in early March, and amassed a stellar 36-10 record prior to the French Open. The 22-year-old from Austria has the most titles (6) out of all the current ATP Young Guns and is the last one standing in the French Open.
While I do agree with having Zverev and Borna Coric in the middle of the list, I was surprised to see Taylor Fritz on the list.
Fritz is an 18-year-old from America that recently hit a career-high ranking of No. 67. He turned pro in 2015, which makes his ascent into the Top 100 pretty impressive. But his results are underwhelming when compared with other Young Guns teenagers Zverev and Coric. Not only do his results pale in comparison to other teenaged Young Guns, but he can’t hang with them either. Fritz faced Coric in the first round of the French Open and was thoroughly thumped by the Croatian 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
Fritz is still occasionally playing Challengers, which has contributed to his quick increase in the rankings. Remember when Hyeon Chung was ranked in the Top 50 after winning a bunch of Challengers? Then Chung stopped and started only playing “big boy” tournaments and summersaulted down the rankings. It’s hard to gauge how successful a player truly is based on their results in Challengers. Fritz needs to show some success at Masters 1000 and win a first round at a Grand Slam before I can put him in my list.
Taking the five current Young Guns mentioned in Gilbert’s list, here is how I rank them: