Elder first-timers top the bill at London’s ATP Finals
John Isner and Kevin Anderson are two of the oldest debutants in the tournament’s history.
Two men will make their debuts at the ATP Finals in London this week – but the wait for the next generation goes on.
Five of the eight men who will do battle in the season-ending event at the O2 Arena are over 30, with only 21-year-old Alexander Zverev and 25-year-old Dominic Thiem, both of whom qualified last year, representing the younger players on tour.
The two debutants, 33-year-old John Isner and 32-year-old Kevin Anderson, are among the five oldest first-timers in the history of the tournament and the oldest since its infancy in the early 1970s.
For both, whose average height is 6ft 9in, the achievement is reward for careers spent trying to wring every last drop out of their talent.
They shared the stage for one of the most memorable matches of the season when Anderson defeated Isner 26-24 in the fifth set of a six-hour-plus semi-final that directly led to Wimbledon announcing the introduction of final-set tie-breaks.
Anderson, the first South African to qualify for the tournament since Wayne Ferreira 23 years ago, did not make his first grand slam quarter-final until 2015 and has now reached two finals in as many seasons.
He is determined to soak up the whole experience, telling reporters: “I’ve been watching this tournament since I was a little kid. I’ve been close a couple of times. It’s something that’s very important to me.
“It’s important for me to enjoy being here too. The main priority is the tennis, but as I arrived here a week before the start, it’s important for me to train and then be able to switch off and do something else – visiting attractions. It’s been a very enjoyable few days so far, not just for me but also my team.”
Anderson faces Thiem in the opening singles match on Sunday while Isner has the unenviable task of trying to stop the Novak Djokovic juggernaut on Monday evening.
The American has been virtually a fixture in the top 20 for the better part of a decade but finally secured a place in the final-eight showdown after making back-to-back slam quarter-finals and winning the biggest title of his career in Miami.
Isner said of facing Djokovic on nittoatpfinals.com: “I’m going up against the number one player in the world. It’s a huge opportunity. Everyone I’m going to play this week is ranked ahead of me so it’s a pretty unique spot that I’m in.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun but also a situation where I don’t have much to lose. I’m going to be the underdog. It’s a situation I like and I’m going to relish it.”
Predicting when the changing of the guard will come in men’s tennis has been something of a fool’s errand but, although the ATP Finals field appears to offer little encouragement to the next generation, there are signs that it is inching closer.
The two alternates in London are 22-year-old Karen Khachanov, who stunned Djokovic to win the Paris Masters last weekend, and 21-year-old Borna Coric.
In contrast to the top 10, meanwhile, of the players ranked 11-20, only Fabio Fognini is in his 30s, and it would be a surprise if 15th-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas does not join Zverev at the ATP Finals very soon.