Following the announcement that the ATP Tour is launching a new tournament to promote the next generation of tennis talent, Nigel Currie, sports marketing consultant at NC Partnership, asks who the sport's most promising and marketable youngsters are.
The most worrying thing for the ATP is that despite the demise of the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, those two players have only just dropped out of the world's top four. The lack of young players coming through and challenging the top names must be a concern.
Many sports trundle on year after year being very successful, but not really moving forward. What they need to make them really successful is the emergence of genuinely talented players who have that something extra, whether it’s in the way that they play or their characters.
Sportsmen such as John McEnroe, Alex Higgins and Seve Ballesteros were all great champions, but never consistently number ones in their sports. However, they were absolutely instrumental in taking the sports of tennis, snooker and golf to new levels of entertainment and interest, wider media appeal and a younger audience.
Kyrgios, the Australian, has looked like an obvious replacement for a couple of years now. Although too old at 22 to be part of the ATP’s planned new NextGen tournament, he has enormous talent and is a real crowd-pleaser.
This more than anything is what men’s tennis needs. The antics of Kyrgios are creating a lot of headlines at the moment and it is just what tennis needs. The players need to get the media talking and the fans interested – Kyrgios certainly does that.
Similarly, Zverev from Germany, who is strongly tipped to break into the world’s top 10 very soon, is a young player with attitude and racquet-smashing aggression. Again, his temperament and on-court behaviour have attracted as much media coverage as his results.
Khachanov has just won his first ATP title and at 20 looks to be another of the new kids coming off the rank. However, his game is a familiar one. He is very tall and his hard-hitting baseline dominance game will limit his appeal.
The cool and good-looking Croatian, Ćorić, has produced the best one-off results of any of the young pretenders, having beaten both Nadal and Andy Murray in the past year. He has huge promise and, like Kachanov, communicates well in English. This is something that will get even better with time and which is incredibly important if they are to maximise their global appeal.
Nishioka, from Japan, is another bright star on the horizon. He doesn’t have the power game of some of his peers, but is superbly talented. Japan is desperate for its first Grand Slam winner in tennis and Nishioka could well be that man, unless Kei Nishikori does it first. If he does make the breakthrough, he will become one of the most marketable sportsmen on the planet.
For the ATP, it is in the US where there is the greatest potential and genuine cause for excitement. The American market is vitally important to the overall success of tennis, but it is 13 years since there has been a male American Grand Slam winner. Tiafoe has a rags-to-riches story and the lack of top black players in the game present him with significant added opportunities. His game is extremely unorthodox, full of imagination, inventiveness and unpredictability, something that the game is crying out for.
However, it is Fritz who really looks like he could be the real deal as an-all American kid with great confidence and some performances to back up the hype and optimism surrounding him. Still only 18, his rise through the tennis ranks has been spectacular. Couple that with the good looks, the fashion, style and his new wife [female player Raquel Pedraza], and it gives the marketers and the major brands an offering with unprecedented global potential.
Fritz could very well become the next big sensation in tennis and the timing could not be better for him. After so much dominance from the likes of Federer, Murray, Novak Djokovic and Nadal, the sport, and America, is desperate for him to make it to the top.