Has Carlos Alcaraz judged the previous “next generation”?

Matteo Berrettini Australian Open

January 17, 2023; Melbourne, VICTORIA, Australia; Matteo Berrettini on day two of the 2023 Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park. Mandatory credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports

The epic men’s singles final at Wimbledon is still talked about around the world. Obviously, Carlos Alcaraz and those closest to him were the most delighted after the Spaniard’s extraordinary victory, but there are three men who I can imagine breathing a sigh of relief. The first is Roger Federer. Although the Swiss legend said before the tournament that he would be happy to see Novak Djokovic equal his Wimbledon record of eight titles, I find it hard to believe. The other two are Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem. Both are members of the previous next generation now in their mid-to-late twenties that existed before Alcaraz, who tried to challenge Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal. Other players of that generation who have reached a Grand Slam final but have yet to become a champion include Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Matteo Berrettini, Casper Ruud and Nick Kyrgios.

Medvedev and Thiem are the only players from that generation to have won a Grand Slam. Therefore, watching Alcaraz’s incredible rise, each man may have felt glad that they took one of the chances they had to win a Grand Slam. In this article, I rank which of the previous next generation players who have previously reached a Grand Slam final are most likely to take the final step.

A disclaimer before I go any further: I started writing this piece before news of new charges against Zverev occured. We do not know how that story will develop further in the future. This article works under the current conditions where the listed players can play freely, which Zverev is still able to do at the moment.

Which of the previous next generations is most likely to win a Grand Slam?

5. Nick Kyrgios

Last year’s Wimbledon finalist is the hardest of the five players to predict. Kyrgios has all the tools to threaten any player in the world, and he may actually be the most talented of the players on this list. John Isner is the only current player I think has a better serve when Kyrgios is at his best. He also has a devastating forehand, one of the best volleys in tennis, an excellent drop shot and one of the most consistent backhand returns in the game. The question for the Australian is mental and physical. He has had repeated injury problems (including this year), which is probably at least partially related to his lack of commitment to physical training throughout his career. Before last year’s run to the final at SW19, the 28-year-old had not been to a Grand Slam quarter-final since 2015. Of course, Kyrgios is famous for his on-court antics and it remains a question whether he can stay focused enough to win a Grand Slam.

Carlos Alcaraz has not judged Nick Kyrgios, in fact, if he is at his best, the Australian could be one of the most likely to challenge the Spaniard. But throughout his career he has regularly missed his own chances. It’s certainly possible that Kyrgios could win at Wimbledon, but he’s been so inconsistent that I can’t justify putting him higher.

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4. Casper Ruud

Fans of Casper Ruud have reason to be offended by this ranking for a man who has reached three of the last six Grand Slam finals. On a personal level, I’m a big fan of Ruud, who is one of the nicest guys on the tour, and I want him to win a Grand Slam more than anyone else on this list. However, Ruud has only managed to win one set in the three Grand Slam finals, one Masters final and World Tour Finals final he has reached. Apart from underperforming slightly against Rafael Nadal in his first Grand Slam final, the Norwegian did not play noticeably poorly in any of those finals. It could indicate that he lacks an extra gear against the best in major finals. Ruud also arguably had friendly draws in the Grand Slam runs he had. He faced a 34-year-old Marin Cilic playing in his first Roland Garros semi-final, debutant Grand Slam semi-finalist Karen Khachanov and a much-under par Alexander Zverev in his Grand Slam semi-final. The 24-year-old still deserves huge credit for reaching his three finals, but a question is whether he is maximizing his level by achieving so much.

In addition, Ruud’s best surface with a comfortable margin is clay. That Alcaraz is the only realistic challenger to Djokovic at Roland Garros this year may indicate that he will dominate in Paris especially in the future. Alcaraz was then able to doom Ruud by taking away his biggest Grand Slam opportunity by far.

3. Stefanos Tsitsipas

The Greek reached the Australian Open final this year and held a two-set lead over Djokovic in the 2021 French Open final before the Serbian recovered. Tsitsipas’ game is dangerous for anyone. His serve and forehand combination is one of the most lethal at its best, and he is capable of some variation, such as coming to the net. But to challenge more consistently for Grand Slams in Alcaraz and the other rising stars era, Tsitsipas desperately needs to improve his backhand in rallies and on the return. It’s a flashy shot that’s pleasing to the eye, but it’s repeatedly his Achilles heel, breaking down in big moments.

Tsitsipas could also be most harmed by the emergence of Alcaraz. First, because clay is the Greek’s best surface, which makes the point I made earlier about Alcaraz possibly dominating at Roland Garros relevant again. But also because Alcaraz has won all five of his matches against Tsitsipas and his style of play is a nightmare for the two-time Grand Slam finalist. The biggest reason is that Alcaraz is better than any other active player on tour at targeting the Tsitsipas backhand with heavy power and topspin. The Greek could win a Grand Slam, but he may need Alcaraz to get injured or for someone else to pull off an upset.

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2. Matteo Berrettini

The fact that the Italian is ranked so high may surprise some. Berrettini has only one Grand Slam final under his belt, at Wimbledon two years ago, when he lost to Djokovic in four sets. Like Ruud and Kyrgios, he has also never won a Masters title. There are weaknesses in Berrettini’s game, such as lacking a consistent backhand and his moves not being as good as most of those near the top.

The reason I have Berrettini number two is that I am confident that his time at Wimbledon will come at least once. Both he and Kyrgios have games perfectly suited to grass, but it is Berrettini who has demonstrated a more consistent love and commitment to tennis, as evidenced by the Italian crying for days when he missed Wimbledon last year after testing positive for Covid. He was unlucky again this year after coming into Wimbledon almost out of match practice following injury problems and actually did well to reach the fourth round of consideration where he lost to Alcaraz in four sets. The presence of Alcaraz and other players in the future when Djokovic retires means that Wimbledon is far from a given. But Berrettini’s huge serve, his powerful forehand that works best on grass, effective serve and skillful net play is a package that is so dangerous on grass at his best that I think it will cause enough shock at SW19 to win the title at least once, even with Alcaraz in the picture. He will hope for more luck with injuries and illness in the future.

1. Alexander Zverev

Those who judge Alexander Zverev solely on his performances so far this season can roll their eyes at his No. 1 spot. He had a good run to the semifinals at Roland Garros, but lost tamely to Ruud and has mostly struggled at other tournaments. But the German is still recovering from the horrific injury he suffered in last year’s French Open semi-final and is likely to continue to improve, whether that starts quickly or more gradually. It’s also easy to forget how extensive Zverev’s resume is. He has five Masters titles, two World Tour Finals titles and he is an Olympic champion. Also, Zverev came closest on this list to winning a Grand Slam after holding a match point against Dominic Thiem in the 2020 US Open final. The 26-year-old’s game, when close to his best, is very complete with a great serve and return, great movement for a man of six feet six inches and an ability to hit hard from either wing. Only his second serve is a real weakness.

Zverev also holds a 3-2 head-to-head lead over Alcaraz. Two of those wins were in 2021, when Alcaraz was nowhere near the player he is now, but his win over the Spaniard at Roland Garros last year was very impressive. While I am confident that Zverev will have both a losing head-to-head record to Alcaraz and fewer Grand Slams won than the 20-year-old at the end of his career, I think his dangerous style could cause upsets against Alcaraz on some occasions when he returns to his best. Therefore, he is the least judged of Alcaraz and I am convinced that his time will come for a Grand Slam.

Main photo credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports

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