An oligarchical ruling class has dominated tennis in recent years. You know the names—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Serena, Venus... Eventually, Father Time will preserve his undefeated record, and these titans of the game will fade from prominence. Here are some players we think could assume the mantle and become tennis’ biggest stars, as soon as 2019.
The Big Three—Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal—are extravagantly great tennis players. But they are also extravagantly greedy, hoarding almost 90% of the majors singles titles held over the last 13 years, including each of the last eight. At some point this monopoly has to be broken up. The most likely candidate right now: Alexander “Sascha” Zverev, the 21-year-old German who finished the year by beating Federer and then Djokovic to win the ATP World Tour finals in London. So far he’s been much better in best-of-three matches than best-of-five, having reached just one Grand Slam quarterfinal in his career. But the major breakthrough is a question of when, not if.
Naomi Osaka may have been the revelation of the 2018. But she wasn’t the only one. Sabalenka, a 20-year-old from Belarus, started the year at No. 73 and ended at No. 13, mostly by acting as though she had a personal grudge against tennis balls. Her three-set slugfest against Osaka was the match of the U.S. Open. And she further announced herself weeks later, winning the Wuhan title. Want a player to watch in 2019? Look no further.
It’s been more than a decade since a teenager won a major. (Answer: Rafael Nadal in 2005.) But eventually, a player younger than 20 will break through. And you could do worse than betting on Anisimova, another American who doesn’t turn 18 until August. She is already in the top 100. While she is listed at 5’11”, it’s her poise that really belies her years. Going still younger…another American, Coco Gauff, doesn’t turn 15 until March and—apart from standing 5’10”—has already outgrown junior tennis. She won the French Open juniors and Orange Bowl titles this year. You hate to saddle a player that young with undue pressure. But her game might warrant it.
The Greeks have a word, ousia, that—while hard to define—distills to “essence” and “substance.” The Greeks also have a tennis player who is ousia personified. Stefanos Tsitsipas is only 20 but is a wise soul, an unapologetically thoughtful type who doesn’t aspire to sit at tennis’ cool kids table; just to beat them.
New-look Miami Masters
By definition, it’s hard to have a rivalry when one player improves dramatically and demonstrably outperforms the other. Same for tennis tournaments. Once bracketed together in conversation as well as on the schedule, “Indian Wells and Miami” long competed, using the other as a benchmark. Then ended when Larry Ellison bought the former and turned it into his own tennis-fest. But Miami, too, is now under the stewardship of a billionaire, Steve Ross. And after 32 years on Key Biscayne, it is moving to a new home with an opportunity for new prestige.