ATP's 'NextGen' stirs 'New Balls Please' nostalgia

If the “new balls” of this NextGen have even half the gumption and success of their NBP predecessors, it would be considered a success. (AP)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The ATP World Tour boasts six players aged 21 and under among its Top 100. Nine more are among Nos. 101-200. Thus the ATP has set in motion “Next Generation” 2016, a sprawling campaign fans are sure to see plenty of during the Asian hard-court swing late in the year.

Leading the charge are Nick Kyrgios, Borna Coric, Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Alexander Zverev, Hyeon Chung, Thanasi Kokkinakis and more sometimes-angsty, acne-addled stars of tomorrow. The ATP, with a nod to veterans Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray—wherefore art thou, Rafa?—rightly notes that these young players “pose a future threat” to the tour’s elite

While the youngsters’ results have been promising if erratic to date, that’s par for the course in this age of ruthless all-time greats. Consider that Djokovic won 14 percent of all ATP and Grand Slam prize money in 2015. Everyone else is presently playing for a No. 2 slot at best, it seems.

But outside of the Djoker, it’s no laughing matter that any top player can be pushed, if not defeated, on a given day by an up-and-comer hungry for validation and acclaim. Kyrgios and Coric, in particular, have already shown that it’s possible, and on sizable stages.

If the ATP meant to resurrect visions of that perfectly crafted, instant-classic “New Balls Please” campaign from 2001, it certainly got its wish.

Among them, Federer, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Gustavo Kuerten, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin have won a combined 26 major singles titles. Among them, Fed and pal Tommy Haas, himself not a Grand Slam champion, are the only veterans still active.

If the “new balls” of this NextGen have even half the gumption and success of their NBP predecessors, it would be considered a success. (And may this campaign light a figurative fire under the likes of Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem, all similarly promising when they came on the scene and all in various states of game at present.)

Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9

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