May 21, 2021

Ready to Take Over

There's been a lot of chatter this week, after early and shocking losses by Roger Federer and Serena Williams, about whether it's time for the OG to hang up their racquets and call it a day. And while I think it's a little to early to make that call, there sure seem to be a lot of young whippersnappers chomping at the bit this week to take their place.

Some are players we've been talking about for a while, like Lorenzo Musetti, whose win over Stan Wawrinka last year in Rome put him on everyone's radar. He's continued to climb up the rankings this year, beating a struggling Diego Schwartzman on his way to the Acapulco semis, and now sits inside the top hundred. This week in Lyon, he's got the better of a couple other young stars -- seventh seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime in his opener, followed by a three-setter against Sebastian Korda. His win today over Aljaz Bedene earns him a semifinal date with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who's been red hot this clay season. And while the 19-year-old lost their only previous meeting so far, he might be able to put up a bigger fight now.

Then there's Coco Gauff, who seemed to have cooled off a bit since her stunning 2019 season. But she pulled off two stunning wins last week in Rome, defeating Maria Sakkari and on-fire Aryna Sabalenka to make her first 1000-level semis and she brought that momentum with her this week to Parma. At a career-high of #30 in the world at just 17 years old, she took out a resurgent Kaia Kanepi, fellow teen phenom Amanda Anisimova, and, earlier today, Serena's vanquisher Katarina Siniakova. She'll play the second final of her career tomorrow against sixth seed Qiang Wang -- who, you may remember, beat Serena in Melbourne last year -- and something tells me she might be walking away with her second trophy.

But there are also a couple players who haven't had quite as splashy a career yet, but seem to be managing quite well anyway. Paula Badosa is a little older than the rest of these, guys, but she's really coming into her own now and delivering consistently. After a rough start to the season, the 23-year-old dealt a stunning upset to Ashleigh Barty in Charleston and then notched her second straight win over Belinda Bencic to make the semis in Madrid. That earned her a third seed this week in Belgrade, and so far she's lived up to expectations, not dropping a set yet and beating veteran Andrea Petkovic in the process. She'll face lucky loser Viktoriya Tomova for a spot in her first career final, and the way she's playing I can't see her stopping short.

And then there's young Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, emerging as the breakout star of this clay court season. Ranked just #180 in the world when she hit the courts in her native Colombia, she walked away with a title in Bogotá and a legion of new fans. The very next week she opened her Charleston run with an upset of second seeded Magda Linette and continued on to the semis. She still had to play qualies in Belgrade, but kept her momentum going there too, taking out, this time, third seed Shuai Zhang on her way to her third final of the year. She might have a tougher test to make the final though, with a rebounding Ana Konjuh waiting for her tomorrow, but she'll pulled off big wins before and might just establish herself as the spoiler here and beyond.

Of course, it hasn't been all great news for the shiny young things. Wünderkind Jannik Sinner, who has climbed to a career high of #17 in the world at age 19 and has notched wins over Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alexander Zverev in the last twelve months, was stunned this week in Lyon by little-known Arthur Rinderknech. And 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez, one of my players to watch this year, dropped a tight three-setter today to Tomova.

And while the veterans may not be ready to throw in the towel on their long careers just yet, they will one day have to, and there sure seems to be a lot of talent waiting in the wings to claim their thrones.

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