Boxing has seen a wave of incredible talents arise out of Russia and the eastern European nations in the last five years. Vasyl Lomachenko, Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Artur Beterbiev have electrified boxing with their sensational skills and talents.
It suddenly appears that tennis could be on the verge of a similar Russian revolution, with a brigade of young male players apparently on the verge of becoming elite players.
Nineteen year old Alexander Zverev (based in Germany) is the most popular of the young Russians, already with an ATP title (St.Petersburg) under his belt, a top 20 ranking, and several stunning performances against the ATP elite. The likes of Rafael Nadal, John McEnroe and Roger Federer have already praised Zverev as a future No. 1 player and major title winner.
Following closely behind the lead of Zverev are two other very impressive, hard-hitting prospects who are both arresting a lot of attention with their heavy hitting and quality results.
Karen Khachanov is 20-years-old and ranked around 50 in the world. Double K names Del Potro and Safin as his tennis idols and he has shown a similar extraordinary ball striking capability that has already garnered an ATP singles title (Chengdu) and thirteen match wins last year. Khachanov has wins over Viktor Troicki, Roberto Bautista-Agut, Janko Tipsarevic, Alberto Ramos-Vinolas, Sergey Stakhovsky and also a junior Roland Garros win over Nick Kyrgios in 2013.
Another player who has emerged in recent months is Daniil Medvedev, who cracked the top 100 late last year. Medvedev earned his first ATP points as a fifteen year old in 2011 by qualifying at a Moscow Futures. But this year Medvedev has made a giant leap, winning a set from Novak Djokovic in Davis Cup last week before retiring later in the match with cramps. Medvedev showed that fine result was no fluke by dominating Fernando Verdasco yesterday in Montpelier 63 63. The spectacular Medvedev showed everything against the Spanish veteran lefty, including firing winners off both wings, accurate service winners, and deft touch on volleys, drops shots and also swing volleys. Also Medvedev had a natural cool on the court, looking perfectly comfortable with the pressure. It was Verdasco who showed constant facial expressions of discomfort and pressure.
Based in France (he speaks Russian, English and French), Medvedev (no relation for former Roland Garros finalist Andrei Medvedev) is coached by Jean-Rene Lisnard, a former ATP pro from France, Gilles Cervara and a former top ranked junior Julien Jeanpierre. Already, Medvedev has career wins over Kukushkin, Troicki, Kozlov (at Wimbledon qualies last year), Zeballos and a junior win at Prato over Alexander Zverev.
All three of these mighty Russians look like possible, if not probable, top ten players – and that may be making a conservative estimate of their potentials.
Slightly behind this talented trio is another highly-touted Russian – Andrey Rublev. This nineteen-year-old first emerged two years ago in 2015 where as a wildcard, Rublev beat Pablo Carreno-Busta in Miami in three sets. Then at 2015 US Open Rublev lost in four sets to Kevin Anderson. Rublev posted an 8-13 ATP Tour record in 2015 but regressed last year with a 3-5 record, though his ranking actually climbed last year (174-156) despite falling outside the top 200 for seven weeks.
Rublev won his first ATP title – in doubles in 2015 – while paired with Dmitry Tursunov in Moscow (youngest ATP doubles winner since Nadal in 2004 in Chennai). Another career highlight for Rublev was clinching a 3-2 Davis Cup win for Russia vs Spain by beating no. 32 Pablo Andujar in 2015 Group 1. Rublev also has ITF junior wins over Hyeon Chung, Taylor Fritz, Stefan Kozlov, Quentin Halys, Tommy Paul, Noah Rubin, Alexander Zverev and Stefano Tsitsipas.
We all know the United States, Canada, Australia are looking very strong right now with excellent foundations of NEXT GEN players steadily rising up the ranks. But Russia, though not nearly as ballyhooed, could wind up in the mix or perhaps even, with Medvedev, Rublev and Khachanov continuing their fine play, as the leading tennis nation in a few years.