05:31 AM GMT March 07, 2018
Two years ago, the ATP World Tour launched its “Next Generation” campaign on the eve of the 2016 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells to celebrate the game's plethora of 21-and-under players climbing the ATP Rankings.
Two years later, some of the faces have changed, but the theme remains the same: The ATP World Tour has plenty of up-and-coming stars. Five of those #NextGenATP players – Russian Andrey Rublev, Aussie Alex de Minaur, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Americans Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka – took time out of their day on Tuesday to talk to fans at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden about life on tour and their career aspirations.
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Of the five, the 20-year-old Rublev has experienced the most success so far. The 6'2” right-hander won his maiden ATP World Tour title last year in Umag and later reached the quarter-finals of the US Open (l. to Nadal). Rublev also finished runner-up at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, which welcomed eight of the best 21-and-under players in the world.
This season, Rublev has already reached a final, falling to Gael Monfils at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha during week one. Rublev, the 27th seed in Indian Wells, will be making his main-draw debut at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament.
“I’m really excited, and I hope I can show a really great game,” he said. “All the ATP [World] Tour is really tough tournaments and the players are playing amazing and you have to be ready 500 per cent to compete every day, but I’m really grateful to be here and to be part of this.”
De Minaur certainly had the hottest start to the 2018 ATP World Tour season of the #NextGenATP group. The Aussie reached the semi-finals of the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp and his maiden ATP World Tour final at the Sydney International. The 19-year-old counts countryman and former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt as a mentor.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m extremely grateful. He’s pretty much told me to believe in myself, to leave it all out there on the court every time I step out on it, and just give it my all. That’s what I’m trying to do every day,” de Minaur said.
The right-hander received a wild card into the main draw and will meet German Jan-Lennard Struff in the first round.
The #NextGenATP players had to laugh when they heard who Fritz and Opelka would be playing in their Indian Wells openers: each other. It will be their first tour-level meeting, and it comes at a time when both have been raising their level.
The 20-year-old Opelka picked up his first Top 10 win two weeks ago at the Delray Beach Open against U.S. No. 1 Jack Sock. “It was good for me to get some more wins on the tour level. It was a pretty tough week. I had to play [Ryan] Harrison first round, Sock, so fellow Americans, which is never comfortable. It’s definitely given me a lot of confidence,” Opelka said.
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Fritz has also upped his game. The American won the ATP Challenger Tour event in Newport Beach in January, and last month, the right-hander upset No. 12 Sam Querrey of the U.S. en route to the Delray Beach Open quarter-finals.
“I’ve found a bit of consistency on tour, and I’m looking to push it to the next level,” Fritz said.
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Tsitsipas, like Rublev, is also in new territory: The 19-year-old Greek has reached a career-high No. 71 in the ATP Rankings and is set to make his BNP Paribas Open debut. Tsitsipas narrowly missed qualifying for the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals, but he still attended the event as an alternate and played an exhibition match in Milan.
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“I was grateful I had the opportunity to be there,” Tsitsipas said. “I left with some really positive vibes from Milan.”
The 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals will take place 6-10 November in Milan. Eligible players must be 21-and-under (born 1997 or later). The top seven players in the season-long ATP Race To Milan will qualify along with a wild-card recipient.