Alcaraz and Musetti : Next wave of NextGen knocks at the door

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Find out more about the teenagers who are quietly progressing in their professional careers - and hear from the people who know them best : Carlos Alcaraz from Spain and Lorenzo Musetti from Italy.

For more than a decade, men’s tennis has been dominated by the same faces – Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic as the reigning trio, with Andy Murray spending a year (2016) on top of the rankings when his body allowed him to compete, and Stan Wawrinka snatching three Grand Slam titles too (watch: Major Talk featuring Stan Wawrinka).

The young men coming through are branded as the ATP’s NextGen, but as of yet the most recent batch have made no consistent claims to glory. Dominic Thiem won his maiden Slam at this year’s US Open in the absence of the Big Three (injury-induced for Federer, pandemic-induced for Nadal, self-induced for Djokovic) – at the tender age of 27, a good five years older than the Swiss when he won his first, seven years older than the Serbian, and eight years older than the Spaniard. Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev of Russia have lacked the consistency at the business end of majors, with one Slam final between them.

Perhaps it is time to take a look at the conveyor belt of talent and see whether there are some younger players who could spring a surprise on the establishment.

Although it is early days, two teenagers have impressed in this peculiar season.

Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, aged just 17, has taken the Challenger tour by storm, most recently winning the Ferrero Challenger Open in straight sets against top seed Pedro Martinez Portero in the final, 7-6(6), 6-3. He certainly likes playing in his native Spain, with one ITF title there in January this year plus the Challenger title in Barcelona in September – but he also reached an ITF final in Turkey and another in Corderons, and won the title in Trieste.

He is the third youngest player to reach four ATP Challenger finals – after Nadal and Richard Gasquet – and one of five players to have won three Challenger titles before their 18th birthday, along with Gasquet, Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, and Felix Auger-Aliassime. That’s some impressive company to be in.

Ferrero, Alcaraz’s coach : ‘Different’

The young Spaniard is coached by Juan Carlos Ferrero, who has fond memories of the first time he saw the child on court.

“He was a little bit different from the players around him because he was able to do a lot of things on the court that at the age of 12, it’s not very usual to see somebody do. He would maybe chip-and-charge or go to the net very often to finish the point. He could play with a lot of spin or play flat depending on the situation on the court.”

Lorenzo Musetti, meanwhile, is a year older, but similarly bears the hopes of men’s tennis in Italy. Although he had to retire from his semi-final match in Sardinia last week (ATP 250), he has quietly racked up a fine record in his homeland this year, restricted in his travel by the pandemic.

When the season resumed in the summer, the 18-year-old had never won a match at tour level. He then proceeded to beat both Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori in Rome – where he was a qualifier – and then picked up a challenger title in Forli.

His coach Simone Tartarini – who has worked with him for the last 11 years – is unsurprisingly extremely proud of his young charge, who won the Australian Open Boys’ Singles title in 2019.

In a conversation with Tennis Majors, Tartarini revealed:

“Since the early months of 2019 we have been fully dedicated to pro tournaments – first with Futures [events] and at the same time, thanks to wildcards, we have dedicated ourselves to Challengers, until we reach the results and ranking that we have reached today.

“Lorenzo has always been a very talented boy. I expect great things [from him] – but for now we only think about the daily work and a proper schedule of tournaments.”

Musetti : “The other guy is a human being”

Musetti is growing in confidence as he puts together a fine track record.

“The ball is a tennis ball and the other guy is a human being, so everything can happen on the court. I’m just playing and trying to do my best,” he told the ATP website earlier this year.

Musetti and Alcaraz have only played each other once at Challenger level so far – in Trieste, where Alcaraz was a qualifier and Musetti was a wildcard. As one might expect, it was an intriguing battle – with Alcaraz, the youngest, taking it 7-5, 2-6, 6-3. Still, there’s enough there to tantalise – and make us wonder whether this could be a fascinating rivalry of the future.

More than that, with the scalps they are collecting this year, some of the big names might need to watch out in 2021. Perhaps it’s the Next wave of NextGen who offer the real future of men’s tennis.

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