By Damian Kust
It took the late Andres Gimeno seventeen years to repeat his 1955 Wimbledon boys’ singles success at Paris in 1972 (he was 34 at the time). Most of the other junior Grand Slam champions who replicated that in the pros achieved it a bit quicker though – Bjorn Borg (2 years), John McEnroe (2), Ivan Lendl (6), Mats Wilander (1), Stefan Edberg (2), Roger Federer (5), Andy Roddick (3). In the 21st century, there have been just three players who went on to achieve the glory in the pros as well. It also took them a bit more time with Andy Murray requiring 8 years, Marin Cilic doing it after 9, and one of the widely recognized “late-bloomers” (in quotes, since you can hardly call a boys’ singles Major champion that), Stan Wawrinka, had to wait for 11.
Let’s look at all the junior Grand Slam champions we’ve had since then (Cilic winning the 2005 edition of the French Open). 58 different players have raised trophies since then but as the most recent ones are still in the process of developing their professional careers, we’re only going to look at the 42 that won their Slams between Wimbledon 2005 and the 2016 US Open.
Plenty of them aren’t active tennis players anymore – Ryan Sweeting (2005 US Open), Alexandre Sidorenko (2006 Australian Open), Dusan Lojda (2006 US Open), Daniel Berta (2009 French Open), Tiago Fernandes (2010 Australian Open), Oliver Golding (2011 US Open), Gianluigi Quinzi (2013 Wimbledon), Oliver Anderson (2016 Australian Open).
The last four cases are particularly interesting – Fernandes decided to quit at 21 years old, Golding took an indefinite break in 2014 saying that it was really hard for him to find courts in the UK, before coming back for just a couple of ITF events three years later.
Quinzi decided to retire and started coaching, citing the insane amount of pressure that he had on himself following his runs.
Anderson is the infamous case of match-fixing – just over half a year after his Grand Slam title, he sold a set in a first-round match at a Challenger in Traralgon, defeating his compatriot Harrison Lombe 4-6 6-0 6-2. The 19-month-long sentence had already been served when it was reached by the court, but Anderson never came back due to injuries. The match against Lombe remains his penultimate showing.
Who’s reached the top 100?
26 out of the 42 managed to reach the top 100 (62%), with the clear standouts being Grigor Dimitrov (career-high ranking World No. 3), Alexander Zverev (3), Andrey Rublev (5), Jack Sock (8), Felix Auger-Aliassime (10), Denis Shapovalov (10).
Unsurprisingly, the remaining 16 have quite a few common points with the ones who aren’t active anymore. Golding (career-high 327) and Fernandes (371) failed to break the top 300, while Berta (637) and Anderson (639) made very little impact on the professional circuit. The latter never even gave himself a chance by getting suspended almost right after his Australian Open title.
Let’s talk about silverware – 15 of the 42 (36%) have already raised tour-level titles with Alexander Zverev leading the way (19). Some of the other prolific winners at this level have been Andrey Rublev (8), Martin Klizan (6), Nick Kyrgios (6), and Cristian Garin (5). The percentage rises massively when it comes to Challenger titles – 36/42 (86%). Yang Tsung-Hua failed to win any of his three finals at that level, Luke Saville finished runner-up in two before beginning to specialize in doubles. Tiago Fernandes gave a walkover in his only Challenger final. Just two players couldn’t manage to raise any professional titles – Oliver Anderson being the obvious one, while Daniel Berta lost his only final at a Turkish ITF back in 2011.
Success at the Majors
But onto the most important paragraphs – how close were they to replicating their Grand Slam titles from the junior careers? 34 out of 42 (81%) earned their right to make a main draw debut in a Major with half of them making the second week at least once. Special shoutouts must go to Jeremy Chardy, Grigor Dimitrov, Andrey Rublev, and Alexander Zverev, who reached the fourth round at each slam.
Dimitrov and Zverev are also among the only four who made it to the final four at a Major, this time together with the Canadian duo of Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. The latter two were the last players eligible for this statistical breakdown (Wimbledon and US Open 2016 champions), which makes their achievements all the more impressive.
Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime lost their semifinals in straight sets, although facing very tough opposition (Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, respectively). Grigor Dimitrov hasn’t had it easy at all either, losing a straightforward one to Medvedev, but coming really close to edging Djokovic at the 2014 Wimbledon (four sets with the last two ending in tie-breaks) and Rafael Nadal at the 2017 Australian Open (five sets).
Zverev has been in that phase of a Grand Slam four times, making it through once by coming back from two sets to love down to beat Pablo Carreno Busta at the 2020 US Open. In the final, he was on the receiving end of such fightback, losing to Dominic Thiem despite being two points away from victory in the deciding tie-break.
Who’s got the best chance to break the curse?
Zverev seems to be on the right track, that’s for sure. With an Olympic Gold Medal, two ATP Finals wins, and five Masters 1000 titles, pretty much the only thing his resume is lacking is a Grand Slam. He just hasn’t been able to beat a top 10 opponent in a best-of-five match (0-11) but you’ve gotta think that this trend will end somewhere. Maybe it’s going to take an opening in the draw but at just 24 years of age, it feels inevitable that Zverev will rise to the challenge at some point.
Andrey Rublev has been one of the best players of the past two seasons but what’s holding him back is poor head-to-head records against his peers – the Russian has been thrown out of 4 of the last 7 Grand Slams by either Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, or Stefanos Tsitsipas. Especially the first two have been giving Rublev nightmares with their ability to test his rally tolerance and expose the relative one-dimensionality of his game. Once he sorts these matchups out, he can contend for the biggest titles out there.
The aforementioned last two winners eligible for this article, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, have been on the scene for years but still carry a lot of raw potential that requires just a tiny bit of polishing before they can have a real shot at winning a Major. It shouldn’t take long.
Could Cristian Garin become one of the main contenders for the French Open in the years to come? With a much more open field after Nadal and Djokovic retire, it cannot be excluded. His game is tailor-made for the surface, but it remains to be seen if he’s going to be able to win big matches on the Parisian clay. So far, his campaigns in the main event haven’t lived up to what he showed in the warm-ups.
My little wildcard pick would go to Taylor Fritz, who’s managed to cover a lot of the weaker spots in his game, including the rather subpar movement. It just feels like there’s still a lot of room to grow for the 23-year-old American, even though he’s yet to make a second week at a Grand Slam.
And who knows, maybe one of the freshest Grand Slam boys’ singles champions will do it. Including them in this breakdown would be pointless but players like Sebastian Korda, Lorenzo Musetti, or Alejandro Davidovich Fokina have already made serious inroads with second-week appearances at the Majors.