By Mike McIntyre
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal captured his fourth Rogers Cup title on Sunday in Toronto and reminded the Next Gen on the ATP World Tour that their time has not quite arrived yet. The Spaniard was - in the words of vanquished 20 year old finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas - a "beast" whose competitive drive and hunger for victory still remains unparalleled among his peers.
This edition of Canada's Masters 1000 event will be remembered by Nadal's brilliant win but also as one where the young guns made their presence truly felt. Aside from Tsitsipas - who defeated four members of the top ten en-route to the final - there were strong performances by Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev, Canada's Denis Shapovalov and of course 21 year old Sascha Zverev who as the current World No. 4 has already transcended his Next Gen label to become a force on the professional tour.
While the Grand Slams are still being dominated by three guys - Nadal along with Roger Federer and a resurgent Novak Djokovic, the kids coming-up the ranks are proving that they are ready to compete for titles at the other tour events and it is only a matter of time before one of them has a breakthrough at a Major.
Stuck in the middle are those in their mid to late twenties. The Grigor Dimitrov's and Milos Raonic's of the world who, while talented, are at risk of seeing their chances of winning one of tennis' most coveted tournaments disappear. A combination of health issues, inconsistencies and general misfortune of playing in the Era of three of the best players - perhaps THE best players - ever has cost them their quest for Grand Slam triumph so far.
Crowds in Toronto seemed to be among their all-time highs this year and this is a trend that we should see only continue to blossom as Canada asserts itself in tennis as a nation to keep an eye on at the international level. Aside from the 27 year old Raonic - who still could conceivably have some good years ahead if he can stay healthy, there are two rising talents that will soon be superstars both at home and abroad.
Denis Shapovalov made his presence felt last summer during his surprising semifinal run in Montreal. While he could not repeat that accomplishment this year in Toronto, he looked good in his two opening round victories before falling to Robin Haase in his round of sixteen match. Give the kid some time to mature and develop his entertaining game and he has nowhere to go but up. As if one budding star wasn't enough, tennis fans also had a glimpse of the promise Felix Auger-Aliassime holds. The just-turned 18 year old seemed to be poised for a second round victory against Medvedev but ultimately fell 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(7). Nerves got the better of him in the late stages of the third set tiebreak, but he is already the youngest player in the top 200 of the ATP rankings and has a game that is far more developed than it should be for his age.
While Raonic had an exciting run to the Rogers Cup finals in 2013 where he lost to - you guessed it - Nadal, his arrival was just foreshadowing the success Tennis Canada is on the cusp of enjoying. With Daniel Nestor set to retire next month at the age of 45 after winning every conceivable accolade in the doubles world, Canada is ready to now see if it has what it takes to experiences that kind of success in singles competition as well. When Nadal, Federer and Djokovic do finally pass the torch, there is no doubt there will be some Canadians lining up to try to have their turn.