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Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner lead new generation of tennis stars

With the era of the 'Big Three' in tennis being ushered out, we examine the new generation of stars set to take centre stage.

Between them, the legendary trio of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won a staggering 66 Grand Slam titles and counting, transcending the sport with their greatness, longevity and personality.

All eras must come to an end, however, with Swiss icon Federer now retired, Spaniard Nadal very much in the swansong of his career and Serb Djokovic, albeit still at the top of his game, not getting any younger at the age of 36.

Such was the stranglehold the Big Three had on the sport for two decades, there had once been credible fears concerning how tennis could continue to thrive once these legends call an end on their glittering careers.

These worries have thankfully been expunged thanks to a new generation of superstars in the making – led by Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz and Italy’s Jannik Sinner.

As is life, time catches up with all of us, and in sport, fresh talents and new champions will be formed.

We take a look at four of the biggest hopes in the world of tennis aged 22 and under, as the sport gets set to turn a new page in its illustrious history.  

Carlos Alcaraz

  • Place of Birth: Murcia, Spain
  • Age: 20
  • Current ATP World Ranking: 2
  • Style of play: All-round
  • Plays like: Rafael Nadal/ Novak Djokovic
  • Best shot(s): Forehand, drop shot
  • Best surface: All courts
  • Best career win: Wimbledon Final v Novak Djokovic (2023)

Born and raised in the village of El Palmar in Murcia, Spain, Alcaraz began playing tennis at the age of four as the son of a former professional tennis player Carlos Alcaraz Sr.

A prodigious talent, Alcaraz joined the Juan Carlos Ferrero tennis academy in the city of Villena aged 15, where he would quickly become mentored by the former world number one and Roland Garros champion Fererro.

The Spaniard would enjoy success in the senior ranks from a young age, becoming the youngest player since compatriot Rafael Nadal in 2005 to reach the top 10 in the ATP Tour after winning the Barcelona Open aged just 18 in April 2022.

Inevitably assigned the tag as the ‘next Rafa Nadal’, the teenage phenom enjoyed a rapid ascent on the professional ATP Tour, with his US Open success in September 2022 seeing the Spaniard end the year as the youngest male world number one in the Open era.

A smiley and humble young man, Alcaraz’s style of play can be compared to that of both countryman Nadal and fellow tennis legend Novak Djokovic, with the youngster somewhat of a hybrid of the two icons of the sport.

This is high praise indeed when you consider the scale of the Spaniard and Serb’s achievements, but with two Grand Slams already under his belt at Flushing Meadows and Wimbledon, Alcaraz merits such a lofty reputation.

The 20-year-old has the brawn and warrior’s mentality synonymous with Nadal, whilst also possessing the athleticism and all-round game central to Djokovic’s success over a long period.

Alcaraz also appears to relish the big stage and thrive in pressure-induced environments, as demonstrated in his two biggest triumphs to date - overcoming Casper Ruud to lift the US Open in September 2022 and defeating Djokovic in the 2023 Wimbledon Final in a five-set thriller.

Jannik Sinner

  • Place of Birth: Innichen, Italy
  • Age: 22
  • Current ATP World Ranking: 4
  • Style of play: Aggressive baseliner
  • Plays like: Roger Federer
  • Best shot: Backhand
  • Best surface: All courts
  • Best career win: Australian Open Final v Daniil Medvedev (2024)

Growing up in the predominantly German-speaking region of South Tyrol in northern Italy, Sinner was a keen sportsman as a child who enjoyed skiing and football as well as tennis.

Winning a national championship in skiing at the age of eight, Sinner eventually decided to solely pursue tennis aged 13, moving to Bordighera on the Italian Riviera to team up with veteran coach Riccardo Piatti – a former mentor to the likes of Novadk Djokovic, Ivan Ljubicic and Milos Raonic.

Despite limited success in the junior ranks, Sinner has developed rapidly as a professional, winning the 2019 ATP Next Generation Finals after defeating Australian Alex de Minaur in straight sets in the final.

In winning the European Open in Antwerp in October 2021 and reaching the semis of the Vienna Open a month later, a 20-year-old Sinner became the youngest male player since a 19-year-old Djokovic to win five ATP titles, and the first man born in the 2000s to break into the world top 10.

2023 was a real breakout year for the Italian, reaching his first major semi-final at Wimbledon before inspiring his country to a first Davis Cup victory in 47 years and navigating through to the final at the end of season ATP Finals in Turin, where he was bested by Djokovic.

Tall in stature at 6ft 2ins, Sinner is a devastating baseline striker off both sides, already arguably boasting the best backhand on tour with a topsin-heavy two-handed stroke.

Calm and composed on court, Sinner is an unflappable competitor, proving his champion’s mindset when battling back from two sets down against Daniil Medvedev to claim his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in the first major of 2024.

Holger Rune

  • Place of Birth: Gentofte, Denmark
  • Age: 20
  • Current ATP World Ranking: 7
  • Style of play: All-round
  • Plays like: Novak Djokovic
  • Best shot: Backhand
  • Best surface: Clay/ Hard courts
  • Best career win: Paris Masters Final v Novak Djokovic (2022)

Raised in the district of Gentofte in the northern suburbs of Copenhagen, Holger Rune took up tennis at the age of six so that he could play with his older sister Alma.

Idolising the legendary Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in his youth, Rune was a decorated junior – winning ten titles on the ITF Junior Circuit and ranked as high as world number one.

Born six days before Carlos Alcaraz, Rune and the Spaniard became friends as well as rivals as juniors, first facing off at an under-11s event before later joining ranks as a doubles partners.

Like his Spanish counterpart, Rune has enjoyed a fast rise as a professional, with the Dane’s victory at the 2022 Paris Masters seeing the pair become the first two teenagers to be ranked inside the ATP’s top 10 at the same time since Djokovic and Andy Murray in 2007.

Rune’s performance at the Paris Masters in late 2022 was a breakthrough moment for the youngster, becoming the first player since the ATP rankings began in 1973 to beat five top-10 opponents at the same event outside the ATP Finals.

Beating former Grand Slam champion Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round, Rune went on to overcome Hubert Hurkacz, Andrey Rublev, Carlos Alcaraz and Felix Auger-Aliassime before defeating Djokovic in the final.

A well-rounded, aggressive player with an impressive backhand, Rune is a tremendous athlete with a high-energy playing style.

Having been ranked as high as number four in the ATP rankings, Rune has already achieved the status of Denmark's highest-ranked male player of all time. 

Although he is yet to reach the heights of Alcaraz and Sinner in Grand Slam competition, with the Dane yet to reach the semi-finals of a major, Rune has been billed as part of ‘the next Big Three’ alongside his Spanish and Italian rivals.

Ben Shelton

  • Place of Birth: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
  • Age: 20
  • Current ATP World Ranking: 16
  • Style of play: Aggressive baseliner/ Serve-and-volley
  • Plays like: Nick Kyrgios
  • Best shot: Serve
  • Best surface: Hard courts
  • Best career win: Shanghai Masters Fourth Round v Jannik Sinner (2023)

The son of two distinguished tennis players – his father Bryan a former professional and his mother Lisa a highly-ranked junior, it’s safe to say the sport is in Ben Shelton’s blood.

Shelton preferred American football as a kid, however, and did not start playing tennis regularly until the age of 12 when his father Bryan began to coach him.

Aged 16, Shelton considered participating in ITF Junior tournaments abroad to test himself against the best players in the world at his age, but his father encouraged him to restrict his travel time and focus on developing his game at home in the United States.

Before turning professional, Shelton played college tennis with the Florida Gators, winning their first NCAA team title in 2021 before going on to win the men’s singles title the following year. 

Becoming the youngest American male player to beat a top-5 ranked opponent since Andy Roddick in 2001 when defeating Casper Ruud at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in 2022 whilst aged 19, Shelton has made a big impact as a professional in a short period of time.

Standing at 6ft 4 ins, Shelton is an athletically imposing figure, with a big serve one of his primary weapons.

A left-handed player, the 20-year-old is consistent from the baseline on both his forehand and backhand sides, and relishes utilising his size to finish points at the net.

An entertaining player full of confidence, Shelton has already demonstrated his ability to get results on the biggest stages, reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in 2023 and the last four of the US Open later in the year.

Although Shelton has not quite reached the consistency in performance of top-10 rivals Alcaraz, Sinner and Rune, the American is fast improving and possesses an ‘X Factor’ on court which looks set to propel him into a bonafide global star.

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