Learning On The Tour: Denis Shapovalov, Borna Coric Discusses Life As A Next Gen Star

Being named a future star of tennis has its benefits, but is there too much pressure being applied to players growing up on the tour?

Denis Shapovalov (zimbio.com)

MADRID: The future stars of men’s tennis are nurtured by a program created by the ATP to promote and develop their careers. Denis Shapovalov and Borna Coric are both members of this initiative, but how much of an impact has it had on them?

Called the ‘Next Generation,’ the scheme aims to guide players under the age of 21 in the world’s top 200. Last year saw Milan host the annual ATP Next Gen Finals, featuring the highest ranked players in that age group. The winner, Hyeon Chung, then went on to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open. A run he partly attributes to his journey in Milan.

19-year-old Shapovalov was also present in the tournament. The Canadian is currently ranked 43rd in the world. Making him the youngest player in the top 50. His experience of the Next Gen has been mainly positive for him. The rivalry forming within the group is one he believes is pushing him to work harder on the tour.

“There is a lot of young players coming up and a lot of young talent. So it’s definitely tough to keep up with all these guys, but I feel like it is helping us.” He said.
“When I see a guy doing well it kind of pumps me up to train and be better than him and vice versa.”

For Coric, who is aged 21, the process was more of an awakening for him. Despite his young age, he has already experienced high and lows on the tour. Ranging from wins over players such as Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, to missing a chunk of the tour to undergo surgery on his knee.

“It helped me in the sense that shows I’m one of the best ones (on the tour).” Coric told ubitennis.net.

Friendship is key

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Travelling around the world and playing for thousands of dollars, some might think friendship is a rare opportunity. On the other hand, there is something different about the young players. Obviously they want to become the best, but there never seems to be any hard feelings. Even a tense encounter between Daniil Medvedev (a former Next Gen member) and Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Miami Open was later resolved amicably.

“I think the best thing is that we all get along really well. All the new generation, we are all really good friends.” Explained Shapovalov.

To date, there are 10 players under the age of 21 in the top 100 this week. The contingent is headed by Alexander Zverev at third in the world. Zverev has already claimed seven ATP titles, including two at Masters 1000 level. Something that has drawn praise from Coric.

“I think many guys have done well.” He said. “We are all competing against each other. So it’s very good.”

Too much too young?

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As well as the positive associations with the Next Gen campaign, it is rarely spoken about any potential drawbacks. Bringing rising stars directly into the limelight is good for the tour, but how about the players wellbeing? During this year’s Australian Open Roger Federer told Zverev to not place himself under ‘unnecessary pressure.’

Despite the concerns, Shapovalov and Coric are unfazed by it all. Shapovalov has vowed to not get too carried away with the hype surrounding him. Last year at the US Open he became the youngest player to reach the fourth round since 1989.

“For me to play these events is fun. There is no pressure on me. I’m 19-years-old, I can’t expect so much from myself.” He concluded. “I’m happy. I never expected to be in the position that I am this young in my life.”

Coric was more open about the pressure he faced transitioning from juniors to the pro circuit. Although he believes that it has actually had a good impact on his development as a player.

“It puts a lot of pressure on you (being in the Next Gen), which I think is good because you learn to cope with it better and you get used to it from a very young age.“

So what advice would the current group of rising stars give to the future generation? One player believes that aggression is pivotal.

“The most important thing is to set yourself an aggressive game style. When you’re young it’s not easy to do.” Said Shapovalov. “It’s not easy to do because you’re getting lobbed and passed all the time.
“This is kind of what happened to me. My mum always told me to come forward and today it always feels like such an advantage in my game.” He continued.

Both Shapovalov and Coric are playing in this week’s Madrid Open. On Tuesday Shapovalov defeated Benoit Paire 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4. Meanwhile Coric upset ninth seed Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4, 6-2.

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