With the ATP Tour's NextGen Finals about to get underway, Todd Scoullar gives us the lowdown on what to expect from a field featuring Arthur Fils, Dominic Stricker, Luca Van Assche, Flavio Cobolli, Alex Michelsen, Hamad Medjedovic, Luca Nardi and Abdullah Shelbayh.
On the professional tennis landscape, the ATP Tour NextGen Finals should stand as a showcase for emerging talent, featuring seven of the best under-21 players alongside a wildcard entrant.
However, despite the unique premise, the event finds itself lost in its current place on the calendar, serving as the last stanza in a final month of tennis, that includes the prestigious ATP Finals, and the long-running Davis Cup.
Differences in format
The tournament's format is commendable, pitting the brightest young stars against each other in
a bid for glory. Past champions such as Hyeon Chung, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima attest to the event's knack for propelling rising talents onto the global stage.
There are also the rule experimentations, which this year, include:
No warm ups, with matches to start straight after the coin toss
An 8 second shot clock between first and second serves
A 15 second shot clock after an ace/unreturnable serve
Other differences from the usual events include:
Best of 5 sets, with first to 4 games in each set
No advantage scoring
Free movement amongst the crowd during the matches
Yet, the timing of the NextGen Finals poses a significant challenge. As the last hurrah of the
tennis calendar, it suffers from a peculiar predicament:
When it happens that the best young players ascend to the more prestigious ATP Finals, it can leave the NextGen field populated by those ranked between 50 and 120, which is exactly what has happened in the last couple of years. As alluded to earlier, the two preceding weeks are bursting with the elite ATP Finals and the Davis Cup, leaving tennis enthusiasts with a somewhat lacklustre conclusion to the year.
For most tennis pundits, the NextGen Finals undeniably have a place in the tennis landscape, offering an insight into the future of the sport. However, is it time to reconsider its spot on the calendar?
A mere four weeks separate the conclusion of the NextGen Finals and the commencement of the new season, leaving players and fans with minimal time to savour their achievements and re-gather for the opening week of 2024 (which is actually the last week of 2023).
Surely we should be trying to look after our younger players, by allowing a longer break, not by forcing them to go all the way through to the end of the calendar.
A couple of alternatives which evoke some interest, present themselves as possible solutions to elevate the NextGen Finals to a more prominent status.
My first proposal would be to hold the event concurrently with the ATP Finals, acting as a curtain raiser for each session. This move would ensure significant attendance, but also provide an invaluable opportunity for young players to share the spotlight with the tennis elite. While scheduling additional matches in each session poses logistical challenges, the prospect of witnessing the next generation alongside the best in the game is undeniably enticing.
The second option proposes moving the NextGen Finals to the week before the ATP Finals, both hosted at the same venue. In this scenario, the entire event would serve as a fascinating curtain raiser to the season finale, with the spectacle of the final match, being played on night one of the ATP Finals. Perhaps we could even have the world number one potentially presenting the trophy? Cast your mind back, and envisage Novak Djokovic presenting the trophy to a young Jannik Sinner in 2019, or Carlos Alcaraz in 2021, merely 18 months before the young Spaniard toppled him at Wimbledon.
This alternative promises unparalleled exposure and an electric atmosphere that would undoubtedly elevate the status of the NextGen Finals.
Right now, it’s hard to work out who the event is being geared towards, and the sport needs as many eyeballs on the young up-and-comers as possible, in order to generate new fans. Holding the event after the pinnacle of the season, in both an individual, and team sense, just doesn’t sit right.
By implementing one of these alternatives, the ATP can revitalize the NextGen Finals, ensuring that it remains a pivotal event on the tennis calendar. Whether it's the shared stage with the ATP Finals or the prelude to the season finale, these adjustments would inject renewed energy into the tournament, providing players and fans alike with the perfect appetiser to the final events of the tennis season.
The best young talent should be on show for all to see. We want the tournament to be a highlight, not a footnote in the long tennis calendar.
Anyway, let battle commence...
Tood is a former tennis coach and you can follow him on Twitter (X): ToddScoullar