Youth on Stage at Cincy

Borna Coric’s three-set victory Sunday night to open the main draw of the Western & Southern Open highlighted a major storyline of the week: there is plenty of youth in the tournament field.

Between the men’s and women’s matches, there were 28 people competing in main draw singles this week are 23 years old or younger (18 women, 10 men). Of that total, 11 players in the tournament field are 20 or younger. 

Coric, currently ranked No. 49 in the ATP World Tour, rebounded for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over France’s Benoit Paire. The 19-year-old from Croatia has made a pair of ATP finals this year in Morocco and Chennai, and he was also one of many players who represented his country in the Olympics. 

Coric is hardly the only rising star to watch. Here’s a roundup of the young talent in Cincinnati this week:  

Top-30 Talent: Two women playing this week are top 30 and in the 23-and-under group: Garbine Muguruza of Spain and Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. 

Two months shy of her 23rd birthday, Muguruza is ranked third in the world and captured the French Open title in June with a two-set victory over world No. 1 Serena Williams. She played her first tournament since Wimbledon last week, making the third round at the Olympics. Bencic, the 19-year-old Swiss, is ranked No. 27 this week. Earlier this season, she made the final at St. Petersburg and the semifinal at ’s-Hertogenbosch. 

Five men in the Cincinnati field are in the top 30 and 23-and-under group: Dominic Thiem of Austria, Nick Kyrgios of Australia, Bernard Tomic of Australia, Lucas Pouille of France and Alexander Zverev of Germany. 

Thiem, who turns 23 next month, is the youngest player currently in the top 10. He has won four titles this year (Stuttgart, Nice, Acapulco and Buenos Aires) and reached the semifinals of the French Open. 

Kyrgios, ranked 16th this week, took home the title at the most recent stop on the Emirates US Open Series: the BB&T Open in Atlanta. It is his second title of the year. 

Young Americans Wild Cards: Four of the tournament wild cards when to Americans under 23 years old: Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka and Jared Donaldson for the men and Louisa Chirico for the women.  

Fritz is the highest ranked of the Americans wild cards, checking in at No. 54. The 18-year-old California native was most recently a quarterfinalist at the BB&T Open in Atlanta. His best result came at the Memphis Open, where he played his way into the finals. 

Opelka is two weeks removed from his best result — a semifinal appearance at this BB&T Open — and enters this week ranked No. 364. In addition to being one of the youngest players in the field at age 18, he is also one of the tallest, standing at 6-foot-11. 

Jared Donaldson, a 19-year-old from Michigan, put his wild card to good use with a 6-3, 7-6(2) victory in the first round over Spanish veteran Nicolas Almagro. Donaldson’s ranked a career-high No. 122 entering this week. 

Chirico, who turned 20 in May, is sitting at No. 80 this week in the WTA rankings and is making her first appearance on hard court this summer. She shot up the rankings during clay court season, playing through qualifying and into the second round of the French Open and making the semifinals at Madrid. 

Flink’s Qualifying Marathon: Varvara Flink, a Russian 19 year old, accepted a wild card to qualifying and played her way into the main draw in exciting fashion. Trailing 6-0, 5-2 to Misaki Doi of Japan in the final round of qualifying, Flink rallied for an 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 victory, fending off one match point in the process. 

Flink is playing in only her second WTA Tour-level event of 2016, having also qualified for the Citi Open last month. 

Historical Youth: While on the subject of youth, Cincinnati has witnessed some young champions over the years. 

In the open era, three men have won the singles title before turning 20: Boris Becker (1985), Mats Wilander (1983) and Jimmy Connors (1972). Becker was 17 when he hoisted the trophy, joining George Lott in 1924 as the only 17-year-old Cincinnati champions.

The women’s championship has been contested 18 times in the open era, and the tournament is still looking for an under-20 winner. The youngest women’s champion is Anna Chakvetadze of Russia, who won the 2007 title at age 20. Additionally, three finalists have been under 20: Chris Evert (1973), Helen Kelesi (1988) and Vera Zvonareva (2004).

 

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