In 2011, Roger Federer publicly pondered the question: "Why don’t we have teenagers in the top 100?”
It was something he repeated in a lengthy discussion before the Indian Wells 2014 tournament, saying, “We need to have a podium discussion here about why that is the case. Maybe it's due to a lack of quality to some degree. Maybe more kids are also participating in other sports, so we might lose some truly great talents to those other sports."
At the time, he had a valid point. Nick Kyrgios, who had yet to make his Wimbledon run, held the highest ATP teenager ranking at no. 226 in the world.
Additionally, the last player to win a maiden Grand Slam in their teenage years on both the men’s and women’s sides was Rafael Nadal at the French Open in 2005.
Tennis was in the era dominated by Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Serena Williams.
The few players who broke through during that time were generally in their late 20s: Sam Stosur (27), Marion Bartoli (28), Li Na (29), and Flavia Penetta (33) were only countered by Kvitova (21) and Azarenka (22) on the women’s side, while on the men’s side, Andy Murray (25), Marin Cilic (25), and Stan Wawrinka (28) were the only players to break the dominance of the big three.
It also went beyond that first half of the 2010s, with no teenage players claiming a maiden Grand Slam between 2006 and 2018. This was the longest drought in the Open Era.
However, in the last five years, everything has changed.
In each year between 2019 and 2023, there has been at least one teenage champion: Bianca Andreescu (2019 US Open), Iga Swiatek (2020 French Open), Emma Raducanu (2021 US Open), Carlos Alcaraz (2022 US Open), and now Coco Gauff (2023 US Open).
This is the longest streak in Open Era history and heralds a new era of young players at the top of the game.
It isn’t just the Grand Slam wins. In 2022, Carlos Alcaraz became the first teenage world no.1 on the ATP tour. Holger Rune, aged 19, became only one of seven teenagers in history to win a 1000 Masters tournament when he triumphed at the Paris Indoor.
Alcaraz and Rune are now both in the world’s top 4, and although they aren’t teenagers anymore, being only 20 years old shows that there is young blood at the top of the game.
They are joined in the Top 20 by fellow 20-year-old Ben Shelton, who reached the US Open semi-finals following his quarter-final performance at the Australian Open.
On the women’s side, Coco Gauff has climbed to no.3 as a teenager, just behind Iga Swiatek, who (despite losing the world no.1 spot) has dominated the sport in her early 20s since Ash Barty’s retirement.
In total, there are five female teenagers in the Top 100, including 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva, who is at a career-high ranking of 57. Mirra has recorded six wins at three Grand Slams in 2023, including a fourth-round run at Wimbledon.
Coco and Mirra are joined by two Czechs, Linda Nosková and Linda Fruhvirtová, as well as fellow Russian, Diana Schnaider.
On the men’s side, there are two teenagers in the Top 100, led by 19-year-old Frenchman Arthur Fils.
Starting the year outside the Top 200, he has rapidly climbed to 50, helped by his maiden ATP title in Lyon. Fils won his first-ever Grand Slam match at the US Open with a five-set victory over 24th seed Tallon Griekspoor. His second-round appearance has seen him rise to a career-high ranking of no.44 in the world.
The other teenage Frenchman in the Top 100, Lucas Van Assche, won his first Grand Slam match in Paris this year, and it’s at Grand Slam events where these new young men have made their mark. Three other teenagers have won main draw matches in 2023.
18-year-old Czech Jakub Mensik who, at 193cm tall, powered his way through the first two rounds before losing to Taylor Fritz. His run saw him become the youngest man to reach the round of 32 at the tournament since Fabrice Santoro in 1990.
Alex Michelsen from the United States also won a main draw match in New York just days after turning 19. This followed a run to the final of an ATP tournament in Newport just a few months earlier.
Meanwhile, Juncheng Shang from China won his first-round match at the Australian Open as a 17-year-old.
This group of teenagers is progressing in the rankings at a faster rate than their predecessors Fritz, Tsitsipas, Ruud, Rublev, and Medvedev did at the same age. However, players like Zverev and Sinner were making similar strides or even better.
There is no doubt that some of these players are going to join the likes of Alcaraz, Gauff, Rune, and Shelton in the future.
However, whether they will become the next world beaters is yet to be seen. We have seen many teenage sensations like Donald Young, Ernests Gulbis, and Bernie Tomic, all of whom had excellent careers but didn't become all-time greats.
Additionally, even some of the recent teenage sensations who won Slams, like Andreescu and Raducanu, have struggled to sustain their success.
What is clear is that teenage and young players in recent years are making their presence felt at a rate never seen before.
Players like Coco and Carlos have ignited a new passion and interest in the game, and there are others lining up to join them.
While players in their 30s will continue to be present, it feels like a new era is upon us, and the future of tennis is bright.