Miami: the lessons that we learnt
Last week on the ATP proved that there is a crop of players ready to pounce on the Parisian red dirt.
Rafa keeps on ripping through the field on clay so far this season and is expected to charge towards another Madrid Open title this week in the Spanish capital.
Very few are brave enough to call against the world No.1 lifting an unprecedented and quite bamboozling 11th Roland-Garros trophy next month.
However, last week on the ATP proved that there is a crop of players ready to pounce if the established names falter on the Parisian red dirt.
I know, the world No.3 isn’t exactly a ‘new kid on the block’ but his title defence in Munich was mightily impressive.
Holding the trophy up, wearing an eye-catching second pair of Lederhosen too, Alexander Zverev is building up imposing momentum ahead of the French Open.
"I am obviously very happy with how I played," said Zverev, having clinched a seventh ATP title. “It is a very special event for me so I am very happy that I could defend my title."
It wasn’t all his own way. The 21-year-old had to battle back 6-7(12), 6-4, 6-2 against countryman Yannick Hanfmann, before he ousted another German Jan-Lennard Struff with ease.
In a statement victory, Zverev gained revenge for his painful five-set loss at the hands of Hyeon Chung at the Australian Open, prevailing 7-5, 6-2 in their Next Gen semi-final.
A semi-final run at the Monte Carlo Masters (l. Nishikori) has also helped boost his confidence on the red dirt.
“I feel quite good, obviously winning a title in Munich helps," said Zverev. "I played well in Monte-Carlo so I’m very confident and hopefully I can continue to play like I have played."
Still no Grand Slam quarter-finals to his name is a concern and the world No.3 must be desperate to improve on last year’s first-round exit to Fernando Verdasco at Roland Garros.
Saying that, he suits the clay. He is also reigning champion at the Rome Masters and if he can learn from a bruising straight sets dismissal on the red dirt by Nadal on Davis Cup duty last month, Sascha could be heading deep into the draw in Paris.
The South Korean shot back into prominence with a captivating semi-final run in Melbourne and now looks to be back firing on form on the clay.
The world No.21 dismissed wildcard Matthias Bachinger in Munich 6-1, 6-1, before navigating past Novak Djokovic’s recent conqueror Martin Klizan.
The defeat by Zverev shouldn’t have too much impact, but Roland-Garros is just under three weeks away. The South Korean is a real rhythm player and will require a few more match wins under his belt.
Chung is susceptible to injuries, but if his body can withstand a gruelling clay campaign, the 21-year-old will be a real threat in Paris, with his explosive shots, speed and unpredictability.
Over to Estoril and a plethora of youngsters such as Nicolas Jarry and Alex de Minaur turned heads with dogged displays, however, it was Frances Tiafoe who sparkled.
The tournament’s Twitter account tweeted on Sunday “Let's just say this: man, you're gonna have a hell of a career!”
It’s pretty hard to argue against that.
The 20-years old hauled himself back from a set deficit to topple fellow American Tennys Sandgren.
Tiafoe’s punchy game translates to all the surfaces, which was illustrated in a commanding 6-2, 6-3 triumph over second seed Pablo Carreno Busta.
Home favourite Joao Sousa eventually halted Tiafoe 6-4, 6-4 in the silverware showdown, but a second final of the season, having ruled on the Delray Beach hard courts in February, provides a timely reminder of the Next Gen star’s flourishing potential.
A monumental task for these Next Gen prodigies is backing up those ‘big’ victories.
Gregarious Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas managed to do so in Estoril a week on from reaching the Barcelona final.
Last week the teenager tweeted “light a fire they can’t put out.” Well, the world No.40 seems intent on building on his Barcelona breakout.
At Estoril, the 19-year-old proved his mental fortitude isn’t wavering by defeating US Open finalist Kevin Anderson in an enthralling 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-3 contest.
His quest was ended in another three-set marathon with champion Sousa, but the shot-making had the crowd in raptures at points, with a few Boris Becker style volley winners thrown into the mix.
A majority of reporters, media and former players will signal very little chance of Nadal slipping up en route to claiming la undecima at Roland Garros.
The world No.1 must be wary a youthful contingent will be snapping at his heels to steal away the limelight.