Twenty-Year-Olds Playing to Win

By Jane Voigt

May 30, 2017 — ‘Young Guns’ and ‘Next Gen’ are labels generated by the ATP. They help separate players by age and help promote the arriving wave. None has crashed the party of those holding tight to the top five rankings. However, rumblings have been heard. 

Last week in Rome, Alexandr Zverev defeated Novak Djokovic to win the tournament. It was the 20-year-old’s first Masters 1000 trophy. But two facts stand out. Zverev beat the defending champion who happened to be named Djokovic; and, the German broke into the top ten, becoming the youngest man to win Rome since 19-year-old Rafael Nadal in 2006.

Zverev certainly was a hopeful to do big things at this year’s French Open. But, he failed to get past his first match. He lost today to Fernando Verdasco, a well-honed member of the Spanish Armada, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. It’s hard to keep up with expectations, whether personal or otherwise, which means Zverev will be back. 

As first-round matches came to a close today, two other young adults proved worthy of second-round berths: Australian Nick Kyrgios, seeded number 18, plus Hyeon Chung of Korea. Kyrgios is 22 and Chung is 21. Both have the attention of tennis, but one speaks louder than the other. 

Murray vs. Kyrgios US Open 20150901 LB 0191-4

Nick Kyrgios at the 2015. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

Kyrgios is a wildly talented athlete and tennis player, with an accent on ‘wildly.' Chung is talented, of course, beginning his career before turning 10 and at the behest of his parents who thought his failing eyesight would be helped by his participation in the sport. The only flashy thing about Chung is his forehand. Nick, though, has a slew of screwball moves that actually work at times. Plus he has big first and second serves, which distinguish him. 

Kyrgios started to focus on tennis after initially getting hooked by basketball. When he turned to tennis, at 14, he was granted a full scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport two years later. Chung was signed to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 2008, after winning the Eddie Herr International competition and the Junior Orange Bowl boys 12 & under.   

Hyeon Chung 1, 2015 Wimbledon Championships - Diliff

The ATP selected Hyeon Chung as the Most Improved Player in 2015. He climbed over 120 places to end the year ranked No. 51. 

Kyrgios has beaten Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in their first meetings. He has three ATP career titles, as well. Chung’s biggest win came in Munich last week when he defeated Gael Monfils (No. 16) in the semifinals, which means he came into Paris on a high. He’s also scored a win over Zverev, but before he was ranked in the top ten. Chung has no career titles.

Chung’s climb — he’s ranked No. 67 currently — has been slow and steady. Kyrgios, though, has grabbed attention for wins and bad-boy behavior. 

Last fall in Shanghai he was suspended for eight weeks, essentially ending his year, and fined a total of $41,500 USD, after his second-round loss to qualifier Misha Zverev (Alexandr’s older brother). The ATP had concluded Nick had ‘tanked.’ He apologized for his behavior on court and promised to “improve on and off the court."

The Aussie rough rider has settled down, to some extent, after his time off last fall, interventions from Tennis Australia, the ATP and Lleyton Hewitt. Kyrgios has also hired a part-time coach, Frenchman and former pro Sebastian Grosjean. Nick had had no coach since 2015 because, basically, no one wanted to get within a racquet’s length of this hot-head.  

Like many of the top-tier players who have a full basket of tennis skills, Kyrgios wanted someone "to keep him on track,” the ATP reported. 

“I know what to do to win matches,” he said, after defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-3, today. “It’s more about being consistent and obviously just finding that motivation every day to stand the grind and give 100 percent. He’s the type of guy who cares about my well-being first, rather than just tennis results.”

Kyrgios admitted he had trouble with the close relationship a coach presents, an attitude in direct conflict with his desires. “He knows I need my space at times and he knows how to deal with me. Obviously, it’s hard to me when we’re in practice court having someone in my ear. I haven’t had that for almost three years. To go from one extreme to the other, it's a slow transition. But, I think I’m getting there.”

Chung defeated American Sam Querrey, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Querrey, seeded number 27, smacked 19 aces during the match to Chung’s 4. But the Korean’s second serve percentage was sharp, winning 57% of those points to Querrey’s 37%. Chung hung in there with a positive winners/unforced errors stat, as well. Plus he was 75% on break points won. 

Next up for Nick is Kevin Anderson. It’ll be a battle of the big and bigger serves, with a cooler-headed Anderson likely to claim the upset. Chung will meet Denis Istomin. Who wins is a toss up, although Istomin is known for willy upsets. At least the weather won’ change. That will help with consistency. 

Kyrgios and Chung both landed on the top half of the men’s singles draw. However, they would only meet in the semifinal. There’s a chance that might happen, but let’s keep our hats on straight. It’s not likely. 

Does it matter? Not really. 

The unfolding story in the men’s game is what to watch. It’s much more compelling than anything happening with the women. Serena Williams is the queen and no princesses are in waiting. Angelique Kerber, the top seed, lost in her opening round. Johanna Konta, seeded number 7, lost today in her opening round for the third consecutive year. Names are floated for accession yet no one steps forward with any conviction. One player to keep an eye on: Elina Svitolina. She’s seeded number 5. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013