Naomi Osaka stole the headlines for the youth movement at the 2018 US Open, as the 20-year-old proved that her future is now by winning her first Grand Slam title. While she is the shining example from the fortnight, she was far from the only rising star to burn bright under the New York spotlight.
At age 25, Dominic Thiem was the youngest men’s quarterfinalist, but five men 21 and younger reached at least the third round: Alex Zverev, Borna Coric, Alex de Minaur, Denis Shapovalov and Taylor Fritz. Stefanos Tsitsipas, making his US Open main-draw debut, reached Round 2.
Here’s more on those six youngsters, some still too young to enjoy a Grey Goose Honey Deuce, but all hot on the heels of Osaka in their quest for their first Grand Slam title.
Alex Zverev (21, Germany): The German has long been at the head of this class, winning three ATP Masters 1000 titles and rising as high as No. 3 in the world. But his struggles at the majors, and particulary, the US Open, continued this year, as he was knocked out by Philiip Kohlschreiber in Round 3.
With Ivan Lendl now part of his coaching team, Zverev came in eager to build a quarterfinal run at this year’s French Open – the best major finish of his young career. Instead, it was a third Round 3 Grand Slam exit. But the tremendous talent remains confident that the results will come if he stays the course.
Asked if he feels like the same player at Grand Slams as he does at other tour events, he replied, “You’re overthinking this way too much… You’re stretching it, you’re really stretching it.”
Borna Coric (21, Croatia): Coric made waves at the 2017 US Open when he defeated then- No. 4 seed Alex Zverev in Round 2. The No. 20 seed at the US Open, Coric has not been ranked outside the Top 50 in 2018, and his run to the last 16 will earn him a new career-high ranking of No. 18, less than two months shy of his 22nd birthday. In reaching Round 4, Coric produced the best result of any man under 25.
The Croat dropped just one set in his three tournament victories, which included a straight-sets victory over 22-year-old Daniil Medvedev, who knocked out Tsitsipas in Round 2. An in-fom Juan Martin del Potro proved too much for him to handle in Round 4, but Coric gained the experience of competing under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium for a second time in his career. He had previously lost to Rafael Nadal in an Ashe nightcap in the 2015 opening round.
Alex de Minaur (19, Australia): The Aussie reached his second Grand Slam third round in a row, and while he eventually lost to 2014 champ Marin Cilic, he won over an army of fans by battling the Croat until 2:22 a.m. in Louis Armstrong to close Day 6. De Minaur showed his fighting spirit by battling back from a break down in the final set and saving eight match points before Cilic’s experience finally told.
“Look, right now I'm completely devastated, but it's a great learning experience for me. I played at a very high level, pushed a quality opponent,” he said after the epic match fell four minutes shy of the latest finish in US Open history. “Looking forward to playing more of these five set matches and being able to hopefully have the opportunity to finish it off.”
In Round 2, de Minaur took out 20-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, who notched his first victory in his home Slam when he upset No. 29 Adrian Mannarino.
Denis Shapovalov (19, Canada): The No. 28 seed backed up his fourth-round run in 2017 with a very respectable performance that ended at the hands of last year’s runner-up, Kevin Anderson, in five sets in Round 3. He got past his friend and countryman, Felix Auger-Alliassime (a rising star himself, having qualified for his first Grand Slam main draw), after the 18-year-old retired in the third set of their opening-round match.
Shapovalov was pushed to five sets in Round 2, mounting a comeback against Andreas Seppi, and showed that same fighting spirit after again falling behind against Anderson. But in his second consecutive match that approached the four-hour mark, he was not able to outlast one of the fittest players and biggest servers in the game. Though he did not match his run to the last 16 as a qualifier a year ago, Shapovalov was happy with his display.
“To be honest, my main goal this season was to improve my game, and I feel like I've come back here -- from last year, it's been a year now, and I feel like such a different player," he said. “I feel like I've improved so much in my game, and mentally. I just feel like I belong out there this year.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas (20, Greece): The highest-seeded debutant since No. 13 Richard Gasquet in 2005, the No. 15 seed was not able to produce the sort of form that saw him named US Open Series Breakout Performer. He struggled with the heat and stomach issues in his opening-round win over Tommy Robredo, and was undone by Russian Daniil Medvedev in four second-round sets.
The Greek said he felt “empty” after his early exit, but he is looking forward to more opportunities in New York.
“I'm excited. I like the US Open, I like the city. The courts are OK," he said. “It's just hopefully one day it will click and I can play good tennis here.”
Taylor Fritz (20, U.S.A.): The California native gave No. 9 Dominic Thiem all he could handle in the third round, taking the opening set before falling in four. Fritz twice led by a break in set three, but ultimately dropped the set in a tiebreak, 7-5, as he pushed the eventual quarterfinalist to the brink. This US Open was his first trip to Round 3 at a Grand Slam; he got past Mischa Zverev in five sets in the first round before defeating Jason Kubler in Round 2, when the Australian retired while trailing by two sets to one.
“I'm excited to see this event grow as my career goes on," he said, referencing the US Open's 50th anniversary. “It just feels like home here as an American."