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Wait for Alexander Zverev and the #Nextgen might be over

The ATP launched its ambitious #NextGen campaign in March of 2016 after noticing there were a robust 14 players born in 1995 or later ranked among the world's top 200 players -- including six in the top 100.

The anointed lads soaked up a lot of printer's ink, and eventually were given their own eight-player, 21-and-under event starting in Milan at the end of the year -- a junior ATP World Tour Championships. Will the Little Eight upstage the Big Four (or what's left of that quartet) by November? It's unlikely, but the #NextGen youngsters are undoubtedly catching up to the hype.

Alexander Zverev has already won three titles this season. AP Photo/Alastair Grant
There may be no better time for one or more of these players to stage a breakout than in the coming weeks, as the summer season culminates at the US Open. After all, the Big Four is in disarray, and the leading youngsters are maturing before our eyes. As Shakespeare wrote, "ripeness is all."

Andy Murray continues to cling to his No. 1 ranking, but in roughly the same way that Angelique Kerber held on to her top spot for so long this year -- by default. Rafael Nadal, up to No. 2 thanks to his glorious Euroclay season, fell short at Wimbledon again, as journeyman Gilles Muller blasted the Spaniard in the fourth round. Nadal has often struggled during the summer months, particularly after logging an exceptional year on clay. Novak Djokovic is down to No. 4 and is done for the year with a bum elbow.

That leaves just one familiar oppressor who is at the top of his game: Roger "It's all good" Federer. He's 35 years old but resurgent, crushing all in his path. Yet he's likely to show up at just one US Open dress rehearsal, the Cincinnati Masters.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the Little Eight who lead the #NextGen pack to see how far they've come since the campaign was born:

1. Alexander Zverev, up 47 ranking places to No. 11

Zverev is 6-foot-6, but that's not the reason he stands head and shoulders above his 21-and-under peers. Rather, it's the 20-year-old German's results that set him apart, as well as the ever-expanding upside of his well-rounded, power-based game. Zverev already has three main-tour titles in 2017, including a whopper, the Rome Masters 1000.

2. Karen Khachanov, up 114 places to No. 32

He's the same height and built on a similar platform to Zverev. While he doesn't have quite as many tools as his German peer, the 21-year-old Russian generates loads of power off the ground. Khachanov has wins over Tomas Berdych and David Goffin; his best result is a semifinal at Halle.

3. Borna Coric, unchanged at No. 47

Can a 20-year-old be called an "elder statesman"? This combative Croatian was the touchstone for the whole #NextGen concept, partly because he has been ranked in the same relatively ritzy neighborhood since he helped inspire the campaign. That's a mixed blessing that points to his talent and competitive verve, as well as -- perhaps -- his natural limitations (mainly a lack of firepower). Coric has a respectable 4-7 career record against top 20 players, logging wins over Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Nick Kyrgios. He won the title at Marrakech in the spring.

4. Daniil Medvedev, up 276 places to No. 48

Another player with roughly the same inseam as Zverev and Khachanov, Medvedev caused a sensation at Wimbledon after producing a first-round upset of No. 3 Stan Wawrinka. The 21-year-old from Moscow had a great grass-court season, with two quarterfinals and a semifinal in four tournaments, including Wimbledon. His success on grass is a testament to his serve and athleticism.

5. Andrey Rublev, up 112 places to No. 49

Yet another rapidly developing Russian, Rublev is just 19. A lucky loser ranked No. 95 at Umag in mid-July, Rublev won six matches including his qualifying efforts to claim the title. Although he's toughest on clay, Rublev also made the quarterfinals at Halle as a wild card. He was stopped there by countryman Khachanov.

6. Hyeon Chung, down nine places to No. 53

A relatively steady ranking through a period in which other players are improving by leaps and bounds is almost always a signal that a player is bumping up against his ceiling, or has found the natural barrier to the elite level. In this case, Chung's consistency just isn't enough; it takes weapon(s) to dethrone top-tier talent. Chung, a 21-year-old South Korean, is 6-foot-1, so he may yet develop a more lethal serve and groundstrokes.

7. Jared Donaldson, up 99 places to No. 59

This 20-year-old from the U.S. also seems to have been on the ATP World Tour forever. His highlights thus far include a first-round upset at the 2016 US Open, where he took out No. 12 David Goffin. Donaldson also made the third round of Wimbledon in July. He is still rail thin, but could benefit from greater bulk and power as he matures.

8. Frances Tiafoe, up 117 places to No. 60

At 6-foot-2, the 19-year-old from the U.S. has explosive athleticism and natural strength, great assets in today's ultra-physical game. But Tiafoe still needs to harness his power and develop a better grasp of tennis tactics and strategy, particularly shot selection. Tiafoe seems to have taken this to heart, as he is clearly learning and developing consistency. He won back-to-back Challenger level events in May.

Some of the other leading contenders for the eight places available in Milan are Americans Ernest Escobedo and Taylor Fritz, along with Casper Ruud, Quentin Halys and Sebastian Ofner.

Source: http://www.espn.co.uk/tennis/story/_/id/20181971/tennis-wait-alexander-zverev-nextgen-over

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