New York - At a towering 1.98m, Alexander Zverev is closer
to tennis's glass ceiling than most.
Now the beanpole German, the 20-year-old trailblazer of
tennis's widely-touted 'NextGen', will attempt to smash through it at the US
The signs, however, are not encouraging.
From Wimbledon in 2003, an incredible 52 of 57 Slams have
been claimed by just five men - Roger Federer (19), Rafael Nadal (15), Novak
Djokovic (12) and Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka with three apiece.
Only Andy Roddick, Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin, Juan Martin
del Potro and Marin Cilic have broken the spell.
At a career-high of six, Zverev heads for the US Open having
defeated Federer for the Montreal Masters title before a first-up let down
against Frances Tiafoe in Cincinnati.
He's getting used to such highs and immediate lows.
His impressive win over Djokovic in May's Rome Masters final
had him installed as a dark horse for the French Open.
However, nine days later he slumped to a first round loss at
a windswept Roland Garros to wily Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
"I played absolute shit," was Zverev's brutal
His best performance at a Slam is a fourth round run at
Wimbledon last month, while his best showing so far at the US Open was a second
round appearance in 2016.
Federer is a fan of Zverev but he was blunt in his
assessment of the 20-somethings in general.
He advised them to serve-and-volley on the quicker courts,
warning against being "sucked into attritional tennis".
"The depth in the men's game is as great as it's ever
been but you have to hit a lot of good shots to come through a Murray or a
Djokovic," said Federer.
"Over five sets, it catches up with you and it's
favourable for the top guys."
The rankings back up Federer's world view - of the current
top 20, only five players are under 25.
Austria's Dominic Thiem, the 23-year-old world number eight,
made the semi-finals at the 2016 and 2017 French Opens.
But on both occasions, he was dismantled in straight sets by
Djokovic and Nadal respectively.
At the US Open, last-16 spots in 2014 and 2016 represent his
best performance while his summer hard court season saw an opening loss in
Montreal and a quarter-final exit to 35-year-old David Ferrer in Cincinnati.
As always, hype and hope will stalk Nick Kyrgios into New
York despite his best at the tournament being third round runs in 2014 and
The 22-year-old crowd-puller, up at 18 in the world, saw off
Nadal in Cincinnati on his way to a final loss to Grigor Dimitrov last weekend.
It was the Australian's second career win over Nadal, three
years after his first on his way to the 2014 Wimbledon quarter-finals.
If his hip and attention span hold up, Kyrgios remains a
Should the likes of Zverev, Thiem and Kyrgios fall, then
there are signs of hope in the next 'NextGen'.
Andrey Rublev, a 19-year-old Russian, who lists boxing and
thrash metal heavyweights Metallica amongst his passions, won his first title
last month in Umag having come through qualifying.
Then there is 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov who stunned Nadal
in Montreal on his way to the semi-finals.
When Shapovalov and his fellow pro and Canadian compatriot
Felix Auger-Aliasimme, just 17, pondered post-Montreal partying, another
seismic gulf between the tennis generations was exposed.
"He's still underage, so we can't go out!"
"Just chill with Felix, watch some Fresh Prince of Bel
Air. Can you believe it? He hasn't seen it."
Lightweights? When Federer celebrated his eighth Wimbledon,
it was five the next morning when he stumbled out of a London bar.