The Next Gen ATP Finals' Class of 2018 has big shoes to fill

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WATCH—Karen Khachanov wins Paris, one year after playing Next Gen Finals: 

 

After winning titles and jumping dozens of spots in the rankings, while notching a few Top-10 wins along the way, the players at this week’s Next Gen ATP Finals have proven that they have a bright future ahead of them.

As impressive as they’ve been, though, the event’s Class of ‘17 set the pace for the up-and-coming field. Will Stefano Tsitsipas, Frances Tiafoe, Alex De Minaur and the rest of the Class of '18 be able to keep up?

Last year, Hyeon Chung of Korea defeated Andrey Rublev in the final of the inaugural tournament designed to showcase the seven best players on the tour ages 21 and under, along with an Italian wild card. Several months later, Chung would go on to shock six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in Melbourne en route to the semifinals.

Though injuries slowed the progress for both Chung and Rublev (who’s in Milan this year, too), their respective semifinal opponents from last year’s tournament had career-best campaigns in 2018.

Borna Coric, who lost to Rublev in Milan, won his second career singles title this year in Halle on grass against none other than nine-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. He picked up his second win against the world No. 3 in Shanghai en route to the first ATP Masters 1000 final of his career. The Croat also clinched the semifinal tie against the United States in Davis Cup, and is currently ranked No. 12 in the world, a personal best.

Daniil Medvedev, the other Milan semifinalist, started his 2018 campaign off strong with his first title in Sydney, coming through qualifying to beat De Minaur in the final. Over the next few months, the young Russian failed to build upon that victory until the last tournament before the US Open, winning in Winston-Salem. Medvedev won the third—and biggest—title of his career at the Japan Open, defeating three Top-20 players along the way and once again, coming through the qualifying rounds.

Perhaps no young player, though, has been as impressive as Medvedev’s countryman Karen Khachanov, who lost to him and Coric in the round-robin stage in Milan last year. The 22-year-old won his second career title in February in Marseille, and delighted the home crowd in October by taking the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

That all set the stage for one of the most captivating performances by a young player in years when, in the last week of the regular season, Khachanov claimed the title at the Paris Masters. He defeated the soon-to-be No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the final, his fourth win against a member of the Top 10 during the week.

Coric and Khachanov will be alternates in London this year at the ATP Finals, where another player from their age group, Alexander Zverev, has established himself among the elite eight the past two years.

Right now, Tsitsipas is the closest player rankings-wise that could find himself in a similar position to his peers next year. Currently No. 14 in the world, the 20-year-old from Greece became the first male from his country to win an ATP title with his triumph in Stockholm a few weeks ago.

Tiafoe is the only other player in Milan to have claimed his first title this year, winning in Delray Beach on hard courts. He followed that up with another championship-round appearance on red clay shortly thereafter, finishing as the runner-up in Estoril.

De Minaur, who made one of the biggest jumps on the tour in 2018, also reached two finals this season. Aside from the Sydney loss to Medvedev, he advanced to the title match in Washington over the summer before Zverev stopped him.

Can those three—along with Taylor Fritz, Jaume Munar, Hubert Hurkacz and Denis Shapovalov (who qualified for Milan, but elected not to play)—reach the heights of their predecessors? If so, the battle for tour titles, places inside the Top 20 and possibly Grand Slams, will become even more crowded.


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