And Sock at the ripe old age of 22 is the leader of the pack, second only to Nick Kyrgios in ranking but senior in age. The Nebraska-born, Kansas-raised big hitter comes into this Wimbledon as the 31st seed after some powerful demonstrations of his talent on European clay following his first ATP title triumph in Houston and he seems poised to give American tennis a new reason for hope and optimism.
But Sock is just part of a whole new generation of youngsters, most of them still teenagers, who have suddenly burst out of the junior ranks to give the men’s game a whole new look. A couple of years ago, the horizon seemed barren as far as the boys were concerned. Only Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov looked like prospective Grand Slam winners out of the new generation while there seemed to be much more talent among the girls.
To be frank, the women have not come through at quite the rate one might have expected. Madison Keys continues to look like a Top Five prospect; last week Belinda Bencic gave Swiss tennis yet another boost by winning the Aegon title – her first on the WTA tour — at Eastbourne but with Eugenie Bouchard struggling after her break through year in 2014 and Laura Robson only just returning from long term wrist injury, the top of the women’s game is still under the control of Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki.
So one has to temper one’s enthusiasm for the young boys but, nevertheless, it would probably be wise to acquaint oneself with this list of names
– Dominic Thiem of Austria (21); Croatia’s Borna Coric (18); South Korea’s Hyeon Chung (19); Australia’s Luke Saville (21); Elias Ymer of Sweden (19); Germany’s Alex Zverev (18); Frenchman Lucas Pouille (21) and of course, the two Aussies who are exciting the experts more than anyone – Kyrgios, last year’s shock winner over Rafael Nadal here at Wimbledon who has just turned 20 and Thanasi Kokkinakis who is a year younger. All of them are in the Wimbledon draw – Ymer and Saville having fought through the year’s most pressurized qualifying tournament on the Bank of England courts at Roehampton. The hurdle proved too much for three others one should take note of – Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka; Russia’s Andrey Rublev, last year’s Orange Bowl winner at Plantation, FL.; and the American Jared Donaldson who is being coached in southern California by Taylor Dent. Next year, one would expect that trio to have grasped enough know-how on grass to make it into the main draw.
John Newcombe, a three time Wimbledon champion, is particularly excited about the Two K’s as the young Aussies have become known. “Obviously Kyrgios has the guns but he tends to be all over the place and needs to mature a bit,” Newcombe told me on his way to do a “Farewell to Wimbledon” interview with Lleyton Hewitt. “Kokkinakis may be a year younger but he probably has a more solid all round game and is more level headed at this stage. But Australian tennis certainly seems to be in a better place with those two on the up.”
Claudio Pistolesi, the former Itralian No 1 who is the Coaching rep on the ATP Players Council, is very impressed by the new crop of talent. “Coric is exceptionally solid for his age and Kokkinakis has a great game,” says Pistolesi. “The young Zverev is also full of possibilities and I have heard good things about the French boy Pouille. As you say, there are maybe half a dozen who could come through quite quickly and make the top ten.”
Unless Kyrgios picks up from where he left off after beating Nadal twelve months ago, don’t expect any of the Young’uns to mature quickly enough to go too far into Wimbledon’s second week this year but it will be worth checking their progress.
Sock’s seeding position did not shield him from a big server as he will face Sam Groth, the Australian who hit the fastest recorded serve in 2012 at 163.7 mph, in the first round. And Federer will probably be in Jack’s path by round three. Coric also faces a man with the tools to excel on grass – Sergiy Stakhovsky, who shocked Federer at Wimbledon in 2013. But Coric beat the Ukrainian when they last met in Bucharest, albeit on clay. More impressively the Croat, who is no taller than 6ft 1”, defeated Sam Querrey and Tommy Robredo at Roland Garros last month.
Ymer, the Swede of Ethiopian parentage, relies on quick hands and he will need them to deal the massive serve of the giant Croat Ivo Karlovic but his confidence will be high after winning an ATP Challenger in Italy recently. Pouille is another of this group who will have his service return tested when he faces Kevin Anderson, the 6ft 8” Aegon finalist at Queen’s, while Kokkinakis will have to handle the more varied skills of the 24th seeded Argentine Leonardo Mayer.
There is a feeling that these are exciting times for the men’s game and that the incredible domination of the original Top 4 – Novak Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal — is going to come under close scrutiny sooner rather than later. Nadal, of course, has slipped to No 10 with his successor as French Open champion, Stan Wawrinka, jumping up to No 4 in the ATP rankings. But Nadal has returned to London with a smile on his face after some golfing and boating back home in Mallorca and says his grass court win in Stuttgart was good for his confidence. “It was a good moment for me and a special one. Now I am healthy which is most important thing, so we’ll see.”
At the moment the Young’Uns can only dream of Top Ten heights but real talent cannot be contained for long and we will be hearing plenty about them in the near future.