April 3, 2018
Ready-made replacements for Roger Federer and Serena Williams?
That’s the way it was looking for a while in sun-drenched Miami. But then reality gave us a little reminder.
The “replacements” aren’t ready. Not yet, anyway.
As we watched events unfold during this, the last Miami tournament at its current venue, it was easy to see Alexander “Sascha” Zverev and Sloane Stephens as the future of tennis.
And indeed they are.
We may need to look no further than the younger Zverev and the elegant Stephens if we are picking out the future superstars of the game.
You could argue that Stephens has well and truly arrived already. After all, she won the US Open. Now she has taken Miami by storm.
But…Sloane didn’t do an awful lot of world-beating in between those tournaments. And if you look at the unforced error count of her opponent in the Miami final, Jelena Ostapenko, you get the true picture.
Ostapenko made 48 unforced errors in all, 29 in the first set, where Stephens only had to hit three winners.
The Latvian didn’t do herself justice – which isn’t Sloane’s fault, of course. It’s just that it wasn’t a final of the very highest quality.
Stephens did what she had to do, though, to win 7-6 (7-5), 6-1. And don’t forget that she beat three former Grand Slam winners to reach the showpiece – Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenko.
You don’t go on a run like that without playing some of your best tennis. So Sloane deservedly added another big title to her Flushing Meadows glory – and you can bet there will be more to come.
But is she ready to step into Serena’s shoes? Maybe not just yet. We’ll have to wait and see what momentum she can maintain after her latest triumph. Let’s hope she can build on this.
How about Zverev? Every time we think he is about to grab the tennis world by the scruff of the neck, he tends to lose his grip.
That sounds harsh – and John Isner is in the form of his life at the age of 32. So there is no reason why big John’s protege should have expected victory in Miami, or why we should have been surprised by the eventual 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-4 outcome in the likeable American’s favour.
Maybe we didn’t expect such a lack of composure from Sascha either, though – or the racquet-smashing routine towards the end of the men’s final.
Naturally we’re delighted for Isner, who must now be a threat at Wimbledon, if only he can maintain this kind of control over his power game and continue to grow in mental strength.
But Zverev, despite his high ranking, still hasn’t quite taken that final step to convert talent into regular silverware. Time is on his side, though. Great things will surely come.
And Sascha has that X-factor. He connects with the crowd. He has the charisma, the edge, something of the bad boy about him. Wimbledon crowds will love him more and more in years to come.
His latest tantrum won’t necessarily make him less popular. Not when the whole world adores a young rebel – or loves to hate one, depending on your point of view.
John McEnroe all over again? Not quite. Maybe Zverev has a bit of Federer and a bit of McEnroe in him. Not a bad combination!
Everyone believes Sascha will be world number one before too long. No reason for us to disagree.
But what did Miami tell us? The message was simple. There are players out there who will be capable of stepping into the shoes of the mighty Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
We’ll just have to be patient, though, and enjoy their journey for a bit longer first. Zverev is only 20 and Sloane Stephens is 25.
The future is bright. But there’s still time to savour the giants of our sport, the likes of Federer, Serena, Venus and Rafael Nadal, before they finally leave the stage.
So let’s cherish the old guard and enjoy the new guard at Wimbledon 2018 – the tournament that will have everything.
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