Rating the Rising ATP Stars

By Owais Majid

Another grand slam has been and gone and it has been yet another that has given us plenty of storylines surrounding a group of players likely to dominate the men’s tour for the next decade or so. As such, I thought I’d take a look at the respective campaigns of these players, giving them a rating out of 10 for good measure too. I should preface this by saying that these players have been rated relative to expectations surrounding them rather than compared with each other. You won’t agree with all of my ratings, you may not agree with any of them but I hope I can give some justification to my choices. 

Jannik Sinner: 6.5/10

Sinner progressed through his opening rounds with fairly little stress. The highlight of his tournament was probably in the round of 16. He beat Australia’s Alex de Minaur in three fairly comfortable sets which seemed like a statement victory. There was quite a lot of anticipation surrounding his quarterfinal clash against Tsitsipas. Given how well Sinner had played up until that point and the uncertainty regarding Tsitsipas’s elbow, it was thought that Sinner may even come out on top but this match was a bit of a dud. Tsitsipas cruised through in straight sets and although he did play very well, Sinner’s overall performance was pretty disappointing so he gets the slightly harsh rating of 6.5.  

Denis Shapovalov: 7/10

Despite being around for what now seems like an eternity, Denis Shapovalov is still very much part of the next generation. Since he burst onto the scene in 2017, Shapovalov’s career has had its highs and lows and this tournament was in some ways a microcosm of that.

His straight-sets victory over Alexander Zverev in the round of 16 was one of the most impressive victories of his career to date. His performance included some of the glitz and glamour we have come to associate with him at his best. He had the world number three befuddled and on that form, it seemed as if he could beat anyone.

This optimism was dampened significantly about an hour and a half into his quarter final match against Nadal when he found himself two sets down. His on court demeanour wasn’t the best either as he complained on numerous occasions about the time Nadal took in between serves. At one point he even claimed that “you guys are all corrupt” to the umpire.

When it seemed as if he would fall to a straight sets loss, he fought valiantly to take the next two sets, at which point he had all of the momentum going into the decider. Being the champion that he is, Nadal of course had a major say in that fifth set as he won it in pretty resounding fashion, but make no mistake, Shapovalov very much lost that match on his own terms. His reaction at the end was testament to as much as he destroyed the racket that had let him down in that final set.  

Shapovalov’s discipline has often been questioned and the aftermath of that loss to Nadal was a case in point.

Let’s not get it twisted, it’s incredibly difficult to be magnanimous after suffering a crushing defeat like that. It can often take a while to process what you’ve just been through so I don’t want to criticise Shapovalov’s conduct too much. That being said, his behaviour both at the end of the match and in his press conference where he doubled down on his comments about Nadal left a sour taste in the mouth.

Effectively using the time Nadal takes between points (which I concede must be quite irritating to deal with) as an excuse displayed a certain naivety which doesn’t bode particularly well for him going forward. Whilst his complaints may have been valid, Shapovalov lost that match largely due to his own mental failings. Failing to recognise that, externally at least, is quite worrying and it is for that reason alone that Shapovalov only gets a 7.  

Stefanos Tsitsipas: 7/10

You may raise your eyebrows at the fact that Tsitsipas only gets a 7 despite going further in the Australian Open than everyone else on this list. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, these players will be rated relative to expectations of them at the start of the tournament. Some had Tsitsipas going all the way here, even taking into account the injury to his elbow. Given that that appeared not to hamper him in any way, it was then a bit of a disappointment that the campaign ended in the manner that it did.

His five-set epic with Taylor Fritz was one of the matches of the tournament. Tsitsipas showed great physical and mental durability as he came back from two sets to one down to beat an opponent who was playing the match of his life. 

In beating Sinner in straight sets in the quarterfinals, Tsitsipas looked like he could really give Medvedev problems in his next match. Although he did to a point, it still seemed a slightly futile effort after the promise he had shown in the previous round. 

After he levelled up at a set all, the way he fell away so rapidly in the next two sets, particularly the fourth, was very anticlimactic. So although he reached the semifinals after only recently having surgery on his elbow, ultimately the end of that match meant he only earns himself a 7 here. 

Carlos Alcaraz: 7.5/10

After a quarterfinal run at the US Open which included a seismic victory over the aforementioned Stefanos Tsitsipas, it wouldn’t have come as a major shock if Carlos Alcaraz had a bit of a dip at his next grand slam event. The best of players have been prone to succumbing to the pressure after performing well at a major so it would have been perfectly normal for an 18-year-old to go through the same thing. However, Carlos Alcaraz had no such problems. In fact, there’s an argument to suggest that his performance at the Australian Open was more impressive than his achievement of reaching the quarterfinals at last year’s US open merely because of the added expectation upon him now.

In his opening two rounds, Alcaraz demonstrated a ruthlessness rarely seen among teenagers as he dispatched both of his opponents mercilessly in straight sets. It says a huge amount about how far he has come in such little time that he went into his match against Berrettini only a marginal underdog, even as the favourite for some.

Throughout the four-hour-plus epic, Alcaraz displayed another trait which is frankly mind blowing for someone his age. After losing the first two sets despite not playing especially badly, it would have been absolutely understandable for him to fade away in the Melbourne heat with thousands of spectators watching the man 8 years his senior stamping all over him. A gnarled, battle worn competitor may have wilted in those conditions, let alone someone who was barely old enough to have a driving licence. But Alcaraz dug in to play some sublime tennis as he went on to win the next two sets with Berrettini all at sea.

Alcaraz celebrates winning the third set. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

He fought tooth and nail in the fifth, somehow not fading even slightly as he eventually lost in a match tiebreaker. It felt extremely cruel that in the end, the match was decided on an Alcaraz double fault after everything he had put in but in spite of that, he left the Rod Laver Arena that day with his head held high. Even though Alcaraz was the first departure of the tournament from those in this list, he earns himself a 7.5 rating due to how he performed considering his age. 

Felix Auger-Aliassime: 8/10

Although this wasn’t actually the deepest Auger-Aliassime has gone in a Grand slam, for me it was more of a breakthrough than the US Open semifinal he reached last year. On that occasion, he lost in fairly tepid fashion in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev. This time round, he came out a different man as he progressed through the first week with very little fuss, playing especially well in his dismantling of Dan Evans in the third round. 

In the quarters, he was tasked with facing the man who had beaten him so easily at the last grand slam but this time it was a different Auger-Aliassime that Medvedev had to contend with. He won the first two sets after playing tennis worthy of a champion. 

Now, on the face of it, losing the next three sets isn’t the best look, but he failed to go away throughout, making Medvedev fight for every point. Over the course of that match, Auger-Aliassime demonstrated a mentality previously unseen from him. The quality of his tennis has been long known by keen followers of the sport so it wasn’t this that was surprising about Auger-Aliassime’s run. Whilst we’d seen that before, we’d never really seen the grit he showed throughout that defeat and it is for this reason that I rate him higher than all of his peers.

***

As I mentioned, you probably won’t agree with all of my ratings or even my order, so feel free to drop yours in the comments.

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