When Stefanos Tsitsipas became the youngest player to beat four top 10 players in a single event at the Rogers Cup, many were wondering about the greatest teen performances in tennis history. This post looks at top contenders for ‘Teenage GOAT’ status in the men’s game and how they compare to recent impressive teens.
The North American hard court swing is just a week away from the US Open. If the major storyline so far continues at Flushing Meadows, then we should expect some big results from the young stars of the men’s game.
In recent weeks, 20 year-old Greek sensation Tsitsipas not only made his first Masters final in Canada, he became the 10th youngest player to earn that achievement. At just 21, Alexander Zverev picked up his 9th ATP Title in Washington. And the swing has given us 18 main draw matches in which an under 23 year-old player took on another.
The recent surge of the young players isn’t an illusion. On Heavy Topspin, Jeff Sackmann showed that the rise of the youngsters has already resulted in a dip in the age curve of top players.
So it feels like an appropriate time to ask who has been the Teenage GOAT of tennis?
The peak Elo rating (on any surface) that a player earned as a teenager is one way we can try to put a number to the “greatest” teen performance. The Top 10 based on that stat are listed in green below. Rafael Nadal takes the No. 1 Teen GOAT position, with a peak all-surface Elo rating of 2500, which he earned with his defeat of Roger Federer in the 2006 French Open final.
Boris Becker takes the second spot, close behind Nadal, with a peak teen Elo of 2424. Becker had his peak teen performance at the 1986 Tennis Masters event, just months after his Wimbledon title win over Ivan Lendl.
A player formerly coached by Becker, Novak Djokovic, lands the third spot. Djokovic reached a teenage best rating of 2387 in 2007, a year in which he reached three Masters finals and had 4 wins against top 10 players.
|Player||Peak Teen Elo||Group|
|Rafael Nadal||2500||Top 10 All-Time|
|Boris Becker||2424||Top 10 All-Time|
|Novak Djokovic||2387||Top 10 All-Time|
|Bjorn Borg||2369||Top 10 All-Time|
|Mats Wilander||2363||Top 10 All-Time|
|Lleyton Hewitt||2319||Top 10 All-Time|
|Andy Murray||2305||Top 10 All-Time|
|Andrei Medvedev||2300||Top 10 All-Time|
|Andre Agassi||2294||Top 10 All-Time|
|Alex De Minaur||2242||Current Next Gen|
|Denis Shapovalov||2197||Current Next Gen|
|Stefanos Tsitsipas||2161||Current Next Gen|
|Francis Tiafoe||2045||Current Next Gen|
Interestingly, the only other of the Big 4 to make the all-time top 10 is not Roger Federer but Andy Murray. This makes Federer something of a late bloomer compared to other 3 most decorated active male players in the sport, though he certainly made up for a late start.
Among young players in the current game, only Alexander Zverev has been able to crack the top 10 all-time best teenage performances, taking the 7th spot overall. His 2315 top teenage rating came when he won the Montpellier title last year. Four other Next Gen players are included in the table above to give Zverev’s achievement more context. These four have trailed Zverev’s teen peak by 70 to 270 points.
Teen GOAT Trajectories
Looking at the actual paths of the top 10 Teenage GOATs shows that they all have a skyrocketing trajectory in the early years of their professional career, with all of the players going from an initial rating of 1500 to over 2200 before age 21. It is also fascinating to see the gap in a teenage phenom between 1974 and 1979 and again between 2004 to 2014. So the mid-2000s does seem to have been an unusually tough period for young male players.
But that has changed dramatically in the past two years…
We can pick out just a handful of players that have broken into the top 100 as teenagers and see that they are having similar accelerations in their ratings as the best teen players of the past. Three of the five shown here— Zverev, Alex De Minaur, and Denis Shapovalov%mdash;have already achieved ratings equal to or greater than 2200. Seeing how well they can extend these trends at the 2018 US Open will make for an especially thrilling two weeks in New York.