04:57 PM GMT January 30, 2018
Before he reached the Australian Open semi-finals last week, it had been the breakout week of his career. South Korea's Hyeon Chung sped through the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan in November, going 5-0 to claim the 21-and-under title.
But Chung, who turns 22 in May, won't be able to defend his crown come 6-10 November 2018. Who might hoist the Next Gen ATP Finals “X” trophy instead? ATPWorldTour.com takes a look at some of the possible candidates.
TWO POTENTIAL RETURNERS
Andrey Rublev (Rank: 35; Age: 20): Tennis fans across the world should know Rublev's name after his 2017. The Russian won his first title at the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag in July and became the youngest US Open quarter-finalist (l. to Nadal) since Andy Roddick in 2001.
Rublev has impressed early in 2018 as well, reaching the Qatar ExxonMobil Open final in Doha (l. to Monfils) and beating Spaniard David Ferrer en route to the third round of the Australian Open (l. to Dimitrov). Rublev, will, without a doubt, be one of the favourites to return to Milan. He was the top seed at the 2017 edition.
Denis Shapovalov (Rank: 48; Age: 18): Like Rublev, Shapovalov's stock soared in the second half of 2017. In August, the Canadian became the youngest ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-finalist at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal. The left-hander knocked off Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal before falling to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals.
Shapovalov proceeded to reach the fourth round of the US Open, beating then World-No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga en route. This week, the Canadian is at a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 48.
16 WHO COULD MAKE THEIR DEBUT
Taylor Fritz (Rank: 76; Age: 20): The California native was a trendy pick to make Milan in 2017, but the American struggled with injuries in the second half of 2016 and made the unique decision to take three months off during the 2017 season to work on his strength and fitness.
The start of 2018 has been more like what Fritz fans will expect to see throughout the year. The 6'4” right-hander won his fourth ATP Challenger Tour title on Sunday to move up to third place in the ATP Race To Milan.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (Rank: 83; Age: 19): The Greek right-hander was an alternate in Milan last year, and was only matches away from making the inaugural field. Tsitsipas surged into contention at the European Open in Antwerp in late October, when he upset eventual Nitto ATP Finals runner-up David Goffin to reach his first ATP World Tour semi-final. The 19-year-old Tsitsipas qualified a tour-leading eight times in 2017. To start 2018, he made the quarter-finals in Doha, falling to top seed Dominic Thiem.
Watch Now: The Family Behind #NextGenATP Tsitsipas
Frances Tiafoe (Rank: 93; Age: 20): The American, like Tsitsipas, was a few wins away from playing in Milan last November. Tiafoe finished one spot away from qualifying in the ATP Race To Milan, which determined seven of the eight finalists. But expect Tiafoe, who nearly upset Roger Federer in the first round of the 2017 US Open, to continue making gains in the ATP Rankings in 2018.
Watch Now: Tiafoe Returns To His Roots
Casper Ruud (Rank: 121; Age: 19): Ruud rose 86 spots in the year-end 2017 ATP Rankings after finishing No. 225 in 2016. The 2017 season was his debut year on the ATP World Tour, and it was highlighted by a semi-final showing at the Rio Open presented by Claro in February (l. to Carreno Busta). Ruud has already earned a career milestone to begin 2018. He picked up his maiden Grand Slam victory in Australia (d. Halys).
Watch Ruud Uncovered
Alexander Bublik (Rank: 131; Age 20): Off the court, Bublik conducted one of the funniest interviews of the 2017 season. The 6'6” right-hander posed some playful questions to some of the game's best, including Andy Murray and Roger Federer.
Watch Bublik Interview Murray, Federer:
On the court, Bublik won two ATP Challenger Tour titles (Aptos, U.S.A.; Morelos, Mexico) and made his second ATP World Tour quarter-final (l. to Berankis) at the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow in October (also Moscow 2016).
Alex de Minaur (Rank: 139; Age: 18): For the second consecutive season, de Minaur was one of the best stories of the Australian summer. The 18-year-old Aussie, who won his first two tour-level matches last year Down Under, made the semi-finals at the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp (l. to Harrison) and reached his first ATP World Tour final at the Sydney International (l. to Medvedev) earlier this month.
Akira Santillan (Rank: 148; Age: 20): The Aussie, who used to play under the Japanese flag, appears ready to continue his success from 2017. The right-hander won his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Winnetka, U.S.A., and picked up his first tour-level win at the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open in Newport. Santillan also learned a valuable lesson: How to best schedule his season.
Tommy Paul (Rank: 149; Age: 20): Paul is one of a number of American up-and-comers who have the red, white and blue dreaming of a return to the top of the ATP World Tour, a la the days of Sampras, Agassi, Courier and Chang. Paul showed promised in 2017, earning his first Top 20 win against then-World No. 17 Lucas Pouille and reaching the quarter-finals of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
Watch Uncovered: Paul Finds His Way On The ATP World Tour
Corentin Moutet (Rank: 150; Age: 18): French tennis fans have enjoyed a winning stretch with the generation of Gilles Simon, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils. Will Moutet lead the next great generation of French tennis players?
The left-handed teenager was the second-youngest player in the year-end Top 200 of the ATP Rankings. He won his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in Brest, France (d. Tsitsipas) in October.
Stefan Kozlov (Rank: 155; Age: 19): The American celebrated the biggest win of his career in 2017, beating compatriot and then-World No. 25 Steve Johnson at the The Queen's Club Championships in London. Kozlov, a former junior World No. 2, thrives on the grass, where he has earned all five of his tour-level wins.
Felix Auger-Aliassime (Rank: 163; Age: 17): The 6'3” Auger-Aliassime was the youngest player to finish inside the Top 200 of the ATP Rankings in 2017, doing so on the back of two ATP Challenger Tour titles (Seville, Spain; Lyon, France). Only three players have made their Top 200 debut at a younger age than Auger-Aliassime (17 years, 1 month, 5 days): Richard Gasquet (16 years, 1 month); Rafael Nadal (16 years, 6 months); and Lleyton Hewitt (16 years, 10 months).
Watch Now: Fun In London With Auger-Aliassime
Michael Mmoh (Rank: 175; Age: 19): Mmoh, another American scaling the ATP Rankings, captured his second ATP Challenger Tour title in August, beating Aussie veteran John Millman in Lexington, U.S.A. The 6'1” right-hander secured his first tour-level win earlier this month in Brisbane (d. Delbonis) before reaching the quarter-finals (l. to de Minaur).
Watch: Mmoh Reflects On First Tour-Level Win
Soonwoo Kwon (Rank: 178; Age: 20): Kwon of South Korea will try to follow in Chung's footsteps and make his way to Milan. The 5'11” right-hander went 27-17 on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2017, including two finals (Yokohama, Japan; Seoul, South Korea).
Jaume Munar (Rank: 182; Age: 20): “Jimbo” picked up his play in the second half of the 2017 season, winning the ATP Challenger Tour tournament in Segovia, Spain, in August, defeating de Minaur. In the final week of the year, the Spaniard, who trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, reached the final of the Rio de Janiero ATP Challenger Tour event (l. to Berlocq).
Carlos Taberner (Rank: 188; Age: 20): Taberner, Munar's countryman, broke into the Top 200 on 25 September after reaching his second clay-court ATP Challenger Tour final in Sibiu, Romania (l. to Stebe). Earlier that month, Taberner reached the title match at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Reilly Opelka (Rank: 197; Age: 20): Opelka, the tallest player on the ATP World Tour along with 6'11" Ivo Karlovic, brings a lethal serve like the other flamethrowers, including Karlovic and 6'10" John Isner. Opelka reached the semi-finals of the Newport Beach Challenger last week, falling to eventual champion Fritz.
The following players qualified for the inaugural tournament but will turn 22 in 2018: Chung, second seed Karen Khachanov, fourth seed Jared Donaldson, fifth seed Borna Coric, seventh seed Daniil Medvedev and Italian wild card Gianluigi Quinzi.