08:40 AM GMT January 17, 2020
In back-to-back seasons, the player who won the Next Gen ATP Finals the previous year went on to reach the Australian Open semi-finals two months later. Will a #NextGenATP star make a breakthrough in Melbourne in the coming fortnight?
ATPTour.com examines five of the #NextGenATP stars to watch at this year's Australian Open:
Shapovalov finished 2019 with a career-best result, reaching the final of the Rolex Paris Masters. And the dynamic lefty began 2020 just as well, earning Top 10 wins against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev — both former Nitto ATP Finals champions — and pushing World No. 2 Novak Djokovic to a final-set tie-break at the ATP Cup.
Under the tutelage of former World No. 8 Mikhail Youzhny, Shapovalov has climbed to a career-high World No. 13, allowing fewer lapses in concentration and harnessing his shotmaking abilities.
Despite losing in the quarter-finals of the ASB Classic in Auckland, Shapovalov carries a lot of momentum into Melbourne, where he lost to Djokovic in the third round last year. Shapovalov will play Hungarian Marton Fucsovics for the first time before potentially facing 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner, who opens against a qualifier.
This #NextGenATP Canadian has been under a microscope since his early teens, as he became the youngest player to win a main draw match on the ATP Challenger Tour when he was 14. And in 2019, the righty showed why, climbing from outside the Top 100 at the start of the year to a career-high World No. 17 in October. He made his first three ATP Tour finals in Rio de Janeiro, Lyon and Stuttgart.
Auger-Aliassime was soaring entering the most recent Grand Slam, seeded No. 18 at the 2019 US Open, where he lost against Shapovalov in straight sets in the first round. But the 19-year-old is off to a good start in 2020, reaching the semi-finals of the Adelaide International, losing in three sets to in-form Andrey Rublev.
Auger-Aliassime will make his Australian Open main draw debut as the No. 20 seed against a qualifier. If he advances, he will face Aussie James Duckworth or Slovenian Aljaz Bedene.
Kecmanovic competed in the main draw of each of the four Grand Slams for the first time in 2019, reaching the second round at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. The Serbian will now look for his first main draw victory at the Australian Open when he faces Italian veteran Andreas Seppi in their first ATP Head2Head meeting, with 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka or 27-year-old Damir Dzumhur lurking in the second round.
Kecmanovic has steadily improved, utilising his solid baseline game to climb from World No. 131 at the beginning of 2019 to a career-high World No. 47 last August.
“He has improved his serve enough and his groundstrokes are really solid. He’s tough to beat,” said former World No. 5 Jimmy Arias. “He hits the ball deep, consistently, he moves well and obviously competes well.”
No #NextGenATP star gained as much momentum in the final weeks of 2019 as Sinner. The teenager, who began last season outside the Top 500 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, made a big splash by pushing former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka to four sets at the US Open and defeating then-World No. 13 Gael Monfils in Antwerp. But the Italian saved his best for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, where he took the title with an impressive victory against Aussie Alex de Minaur.
Now Sinner is World No. 79, and ready to make his mark in the first Grand Slam for which he has earned a main draw berth via his FedEx ATP Ranking. Sinner will face a qualifier in the first round in Melbourne, and he could potentially face No. 13 seed Shapovalov next.
One year ago, when he was 19, Popyrin enjoyed his breakthrough. The home favourite reached the third round of the Australian Open with a win against then-World No. 8 Dominic Thiem, ultimately succumbing in five sets against eventual semi-finalist Lucas Pouille.
But since then, Popyrin has grown even more. Currently No. 95 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, this budding #NextGenATP star led the ATP Tour in 2019 by qualifying for 10 tour-level events. Five players were tied for second with six qualifications each. Popyrin will face a tough test in the first round against 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the No. 28 seed.