The changing ages of the top players in men’s tennis is definitely taking a little bit of getting used to. For those that have paid attention to the ATP Tour for the last few decades, we’re used to seeing a baby-faced assassin arrive on the scene and force established veterans to start thinking about retirement.
Boris Becker, for example, first won Wimbledon when he was 17 years old in 1985. Lleyton Hewitt became the youngest-ever World No. 1 at age 20 in 2001. A few years later, Rafael Nadal was 18 when he started the 2005 French Open, a tournament he would win two weeks later while turning 19 en route. But there has been no Becker, Hewitt, or Nadal in ages on the men’s tour. The closest thing we’ve seen to a baby-faced assassin in recent years is Juan Martin del Potro, who won the 2009 US Open shortly after turning 20, a result that wasn’t sustainable for him.
Nowadays, the players are lasting a lot longer than they used to for reasons that can be debated. Milos Raonic, at the age of 26, is actually young for a top-ten player on tour and he may still be improving. As a contrast, 70s and 80s star Bjorn Borg never contested a single Grand Slam after the age of 25. It’s with the aging stars still dominating the scene that the 2017 Masters Series begins. A handful of 1000-level events on the men’s tour will be played over the next few months, namely Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid, and Rome. The usual suspects for the titles were reviewed in an ATP article dated March 6th:
“To be the best, you have to perform at the most elite events. For more than a decade, the quartet of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have done exactly that. The Big Four have tossed aside any notion of parity at the Masters 1000 level in recent years, maintaining a stunning stranglehold.”
The Masters Series events aren’t “the most elite events, 27 year olds” but they are still huge. The youngest player that is active on tour with a Masters Series title is Marin Cilic, a player who is 28 years old. The 27-year-oldsand younger still haven’t won a Masters Shield: Raonic doesn’t have one, Grigor Dimitrov doesn’t have one, David Goffin doesn’t have one, and Kei Nishikori doesn’t have one.
What are the chances that just one of those players wins just one of the five events coming up before the French Open? It’s really hard to say.
The bright light of course is Dimitrov, a player who has two lower-tiered titles already this season. The Bulgarian won Sofia in February and he won Brisbane in January. He also made a nice run to the Australian Open semifinals and took a big bite out of Rafael Nadal in that round of play before losing. He’s the #LostGen player that’s playing the best so far in 2017 and his year-to-date ranking of No. 3 proves that.
However, Raonic is very questionable for Indian Wells after missing the Delray Beach final a couple weeks ago and then pulling out of last week’s Acapulco draw. David Goffin has played well this season, but he’s yet to close out the small events on tour with consistent titles. He has just two in his career and he’s been around a long time now. It’s hard to picture the Belgian running the tables in California. Meanwhile Nishikori doesn’t looked primed for damage either after just one tour title in all of 2016 and losses to Alexandr Dolgopolov and Thomaz Bellucci on his post-Aussie record.
If Dimitrov doesn’t win either Indian Wells or Miami, then it’s hard to look passed an already established Masters Series champion winning the title. Besides the Big Four, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is particularly dangerous right now following titles in Rotterdam and Marseille. If the #LostGen stays lost in California and Florida, then maybe #NextGen player Dominic Thiem will be the one that steps up on clay later this season.
Prediction: Dimitrov does win either Indian Wells or Miami with Murray winning a title too.