Fritz & Rublev Lead Class Of 2018 #NextGenATP Graduates
It’s no secret that the #NextGenATP Class of 2017 took the ATP Tour by storm in 2018. In fact, four players who competed at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan finished this season inside the Top 25 of the ATP Rankings.
Karen Khachanov (No. 11), Borna Coric (No. 12), Daniil Medvedev (No. 16) and Hyeon Chung (No. 25) climbed a combined 152 spots in the Rankings in 2018 and won a total of seven ATP Tour titles. So who might make a jump like that from the #NextGenATP Class of 2018?
Taylor Fritz (World No. 49)
Fritz cracked the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings for the first time this October, but he is not a new face in the tennis world. In February 2016, in just his third tour-level event, Fritz became the youngest American to reach a championship match on the ATP Tour since Michael Chang in 1988. John Isner was the quickest American to reach his maiden final, doing so at his second tour-level event, at Washington, D.C., in 2007.
While Fritz holds just a 1-7 record against opponents inside the world's Top 10, the American has proven he is capable of competing against the very best in the sport. Fritz has not lost in straight sets against anyone inside the Top 10 in his past six clashes against the elite group, pushing Roger Federer to three sets on grass as an 18-year-old, and extending this year’s Nitto ATP Finals champion, Alexander Zverev, to five sets at Wimbledon just six months ago.
Andrey Rublev (World No. 68)
It’s been clear for the past two years that Rublev is one of the biggest hitters from the baseline on the ATP Tour. But there’s no reason to believe the 2017 Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag champion cannot continue improving.
Rublev climbed as high as No. 31 in the ATP Rankings earlier this year after reaching the final of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha. But a lower back injury kept the Russian out for three months, and he was forced to spend the end of the year rounding back into form. Rublev found a good level again in November, finishing in third at the Next Gen ATP Finals. And now that he's healthy, Rublev can ride that momentum into a strong 2019.
Jaume Munar (World No. 81)
The Spaniard, who is mentored by World No. 2 Rafael Nadal — training at his academy in Mallorca — began 2018 just inside the Top 200 of the ATP Rankings. But he took a major step forward this year, reaching the semi-finals at the Generali Open in Kitzbuhel and making the last four of the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
But perhaps the most revealing victory of his season was in the first round at Roland Garros, where Munar overcame a two-set deficit to beat his idol and clay-court legend David Ferrer. That win showed the world that Munar is not afraid of the big stage, and with plenty of experience gained this year — the 21-year-old earned 10 of his 11 tour-level match wins in 2018 — he can take another step forward in 2019.
Hubert Hurkacz (World No. 87)
The Polish No. 1 might not have been on many people’s radar when he began 2018 as the World No. 238. But Hurkacz had a breakthrough season, going 28-12 on the ATP Challenger Tour and winning his first two titles at that level. He also qualified for the Next Gen ATP Finals, and earned seven of his eight tour-level wins this season.
For those who have not seen Hurkacz play, his game is reminiscent of a young Tomas Berdych. Hurkacz, like Berdych, is 6’5”; he gains control of points with his serve and has relatively flat groundstrokes from the baseline. As the Pole grows older and adds muscle, he will be able to dominate rallies against plenty of players on the ATP Tour.
Reilly Opelka (World No. 100)
Few #NextGenATP Class of 2018 graduates will carry as much momentum into 2019 as Opelka, who won back-to-back ATP Challenger Tour events in Knoxville, Tennessee and Champaign, Illinois to wrap up his 2018 season. Those victories helped the American crack the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time.
Opelka ranked second on the ATP Challenger Tour this year with a 75.6 winning percentage (34-11), reaching nine semi-finals at that level. Opelka also earned his first win against a Top 10 opponent, beating Jack Sock en route to the quarter-finals of the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com. The 2016 Atlanta semi-finalist will look to become a mainstay on the ATP Tour next year.