It’s a bit of a cliche statement to make, one that you hear so often you can’t tell whether it’s factually and scientifically backed up, or just something society says like ‘boys will be boys’ (grim. Never an excuse for anything), but there is a general assumption that females mature faster than males. Of course this gets difficult because the theory doesn’t accommodate those who don’t feel like they are the gender they were biologically born as, don’t feel like any gender at all, or feel like a different gender at different moments in time, but we’re talking about this in the ATP #NextGen context here so as long as you know I do take those things into consideration, we won’t need to for who and what I’m applying it to.
Even I’ve said it before, how can a bunch of WTA gals aged 18-21 be winning the biggest titles – Slams, Premiers – and be competing with and actually beating the best players on the tour, but the ATP guys 18-21 generally can’t? Only one active male player under thirty has ever reached a Grand Slam final and that’s 25 year old Dominic Thiem. Ok, we’ve seen guys like Lil Z, Medvedev, Khachanov and Tsitsipas either win Masters titles and beat the big three/four/five along the way, or beat them over best of five sets at the Slams, but nobody has really done what the likes of Osaka, Ostapenko and Andreescu – to name a few young big title winners / conquerers of top players in recent years – have done.
But if we’re going to use the excuse or just follow the belief that boys mature slower than girls for everything else, why can’t the tennis world seem to apply this theory to the young ATP players? I’ve seen countless ~hot takes~ of people writing off the likes of Lil Zverev and Shapo recently just because they’ve had some slightly disappointing losses and results in matches that they arguably should’ve won on paper. But what is it to say a player should have won or lost a match? I think the people coming up with these hot takes forget what it was like to be this age. The pressure and expectation everyone places on their young shoulders, just to rip away all that extra praise and attention almost overnight when these guys haven’t yet won a title or a big title is truly horrible, and I couldn’t not raise this issue for my pre US Open Points to Defend post.
To be fair, the notion that girls mature quicker than boys has apparently been scientifically proven by scientists from Newcastle University, who identified why this is in relation to how early girls can optimise their brain connection (10 years old) compared to boys (15-20 years old). Now I know the Next Gen boys are age 18-21 so this doesn’t correlate with the exact sort of brain activity researched at Newcastle Uni, but it makes a bit of sense that the ATP guys would, at 22-25, start to do what the WTA gals have done at 18-22. And even then, apparently the average age that a woman has fully matured is 32, meanwhile for the guys it’s 43.
You just need to look to the recent successes of 23 year old Daniil Medvedev to see that it will come for these young guys, just a year or two after they expire from the age group of the Next Gen category. This is why it baffles me to see people writing off Denis Shapo when he’s literally only twenty. I’m twenty and still do things like call my parents to come check my car when I’ve thought a bug was inside of it (I did this today hahahaha bye). I couldn’t dream of having to do what these guys do, travel to a different city for every week for eleven months straight, keep up the spirits amongst all that to train and play a match every single day. You’re going to have some off days or even some periods of time where you’re not feeling it, so of course that will translate into your results and your performance on any given day that you’re not feeling your best self. Think about all the stuff Sascha has had to deal with this year, that’s difficult for anyone let alone a 22 year old, let alone one who has to play on the pro tour all year long. I know when I had a bloody awful awful patch of mental health last year my uni results dropped because I started handing assignments in for the sake of doing it to meet the deadline whilst I contemplated dropping out, so I totally understand when any of the next gen boys have dips in their match results for a bit.
Medvedev took until the age of 22 to do big things on the tour. Tokyo at the back end of last year and then everything this year, multiple titles, beating Djokovic a couple times, all culminating in three back to back finals and his first ever Masters 1000 title during this pre-USO American hard court swing. He’s 23 now and only just won his first Masters. That’s three years older than Denis, so how are some of you lot trying to call Denis out for being ‘underwhelming’ or ‘disappointing’ since his big, breakout run in Montreal and the US Open two years ago? And some people are singing the praises of Daniil whilst condemning Sascha for his season too, yet that boy is younger then Medvedev and has already won three Masters titles and the ATP Finals?
Dominic Thiem was 24 when he became the youngest active guy, first under 30 and first born in the 90s to make a Slam final last year, and did it again this year aged 25. He was also 25 when he won his first ever Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells at the start of the year. He reached his first ATP Tour final in 2014 at the 250 in his home tournament of Kitzbühel when he was 20, and only won his maiden tour title the following year in Nice. Would we call Domi disappointing or underwhelming at all? No.
We’ve even seen it this week at the Winston Salem Open, Hubert Hurkacz just won his maiden tour title yesterday and he’s 22, a year over the cut off age for the Next Gen campaign and tournament. And Denis managed to have a good run again, making yet another ATP semi final. This is why I wanted this post to go up today, after all the US hard court tour tournaments but before the US Open. And I really hope that I can write my US Open parting thoughts in a couple weeks proving some of this theory true and seeing the younger guys having better results, especially those who are 22-25.
So as someone who has herself been guilty of asking why the young ATP guys can’t achieve the things that lots of the young WTA gals have (I’ve even done it on this blog in my parting thoughts a couple times), let’s stop comparing their success with that of the younger guys on the ATP tour. I feel like this Next Gen thing in the last couple years has been a double edged sword – great for getting fans familiar with these players and also giving these players a chance to navigate media opportunities earlier in their career and giving them something to aim for in the Next Gen Finals, but I feel like it also gives people a chance to bash these young guys for not living up to the hype surrounding them as part of the #NextGen thing.
It’s unfair to compare the young guys with their WTA counterparts and even with each other, everyone has their own journey and that, and it does make sense that the ATP guys would mature slower than the WTA girls when it comes to these huge titles and beating the top players back to back to back.
And for the people who really sit and have the debates over whether people like Sascha will ever win a Grand Slam if he hasn’t even been able to get past a QF yet, you do realise that if all of the big three/four/five have retired in about five years and if these guys with an average age of 20 keep playing until they’re 35, they’ve got fifteen years left on tour and ten of those without the legends dominating the game and winning all the Slams. A ten year window for these guys to win Slams and you truly think someone like Lil Z will never be able to win one from now until the day he retires? Take a step back, look at the bigger picture and be realistic. And realistic here is that all these guys are probably going to win at least one Slam in their careers. I think post big five the ATP tour will be a bit more like the WTA one, more depth and competition and widespread talent, and all of these hyped up young guys will definitely have a chance at a Grand Slam and even world number one. Writing off guys in their early twenties or even late teens is seriously ridiculous.
I think the most helpful thing would be for everyone to remember how they were when they were the age of these young guys. I’m just so glad I’m their age and it gives me the chance to empathise with them and relate some of my situations to theirs, albeit on a smaller scale, so I can see that there’s no reason to be writing them off, piling on expectations and giving them all of the hype and attention just to rip it away one season later when their results aren’t up to my standards for them.
So let’s leave the Next Gen guys tf alone with our too high expectations of them. Look at what it was like for people like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber to grow up in the public eye with all the pressure and expectations of the world on their shoulders. As the tennis world, let’s not do to the Next Gen boys what the world did to the young Disney era stars. I’ve already watched that happen to my childhood faves and don’t wanna have to watch it happen to my early adulthood faves.