This gripe will be all too familiar to anyone who has followed men’s tennis, but the sport doesn’t have any gosh-darned kids. A cabal of 30-something legends still run the show, coming in and out of injury and picking up where they left off, stomping flat a whole generation of hopefuls. The No. 2 player in the world turned 37 years old last week. While the world would happily shut up and watch Federer play into his fifties, that monotony could reasonably make a fan nervous about the sport’s future. Fortunately, this season has brought an encouraging youth injection. As Tennis Abstract observed in a recent analysis of the age of the tour’s top 50 players, the game’s top tier is—for the first time in a long time—getting younger.
Some of those faces might by now be familiar. Sascha Zverev, world No. 4, has long since left his seat at the kids’ table. Still on the come-up are Denis Shapovalov, 19, and Frances Tiafoe, 20, entertaining players who are the future of North America. They clashed in an excellent first-round match in Cincinnati Monday, with Canada coming out ahead in three sets. These two have had breakout successes this season: Tiafoe picked up his first title in Delray Beach; Shapo made unexpected strides on clay to reach a Masters semifinal. They now sit at No. 38 and No. 32 in the world, respectively. And they’ve been rapidly, completely passed up by a tan, scraggly travel vlogger who turned 20 on Sunday.
Enter Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek who took down four consecutive top-10 players—Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Zverev, and Kevin Anderson—in Toronto last week, ramping up his steadily impressive 2018. After a flurry of wins over clay, grass, and hardcourt, he is now No. 15 in the world. His earliest highlights documented his appetite for eating various surfaces.
With more time and more wins, Tsitsipas’s full arsenal has revealed itself: a huge swoop of a backhand (the one-hander isn’t dead!), a slightly stiff-looking but potent forehand whose direction is very hard to read, flashes of drop-shot finesse, and the beginnings of a confident roving all-court game. Here’s a solid primer:
Tsitsipas can also list all the modes of transportation, if that’s something you value in your tennis players. He’s the ATP Tour’s Logan Paul, minus the snuff films and unfunny pranks.
Tsitsipas might even provide the necessary service of stirring up some shit in men’s tennis. He was embroiled in toilet beef with Daniil Medvedev, who told him to “shut your fuck up, okay?” After losing to Tsitsipas last week, Zverev said, “I don’t think he played that well. I think the match was absolutely pathetic on all levels,” which was a rough appraisal even from the forthright, sometimes prickly German.
After dismissing four veterans, Tsitsipas finally lost to Rafael Nadal in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday, 6-2, 7-6 (4), in a match that flickered to life right at its conclusion. He is far away from contending with Rafa—this was his second meeting, both finals, both losses in straight sets—but sitting a notch below Nadal on the food chain is a pretty good place for a 20-year-old to be, all things considered. Tsitsipas’s post-game presser was full of colorful, accurate appraisals of his foe. “He was normal like all of us and he managed to become this beast, this monster that he is today,” he said. “He never cracks. He will always grab you like a bulldog, and he will always make you suffer on the court.” In Stefanos Tsitsipas, men’s tennis might have an articulate, telegenic, and frankly weird star in the making.