Felix Auger-Aliassime, Amanda Anisimova star in statement week for young guns at Indian Wells

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Anisimova and Auger-Aliassime are just two of the young guns to excel this week.

To anyone craving some fresh blood on the tennis tour, look no further than the last couple of days at Indian Wells where the teenagers have officially spoken.

A 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova claimed her first WTA match win in her opening round against Pauline Parmentier before upsetting Russian No. 23 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to reach the third round.

The US Open junior champion received a wildcard into the tournament and is the youngest player in the Indian Wells women’s draw.

On the men’s side, Canada’s 17-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime claimed his first tour-level victory in front of a full house on Stadium 2 to dispatch his countryman Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 7-6 (4) on Friday. His round two is another all-Canadian affair as he takes on former top-five player Milos Raonic.

“I told my coach earlier this week, like, ‘Wow, it’s crazy. Last year, two years ago, never would have thought I’d be here talking to you guys, second round of the Masters’. I was still playing juniors. This transition went pretty fast for me, so it’s quite unbelievable to be here so early. But as a kid, those are the moments you dream of and those are the stages you want to play on, yeah,” the Montreal teen told reporters after the win.

But those two aren’t the only young guns to make statements this week. The list is quite extensive and also includes the following:

  • Russian 18-year-old wildcard Sofya Zhuk got her first WTA main draw match win by defeating Alize Cornet in the first round.
  • 18-year-old Marketa Vondrousova took out Madison Brengle then No. 11 seed Johanna Konta to make the third round
  • 19-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas reached round two with a win over Radu Albot.
  • 18-year-old Aussie Alex de Minaur claimed a tight three-set win over Jan-Lennard Struff in his opener.
  • 19-year-old Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka upset 19th-seed and three-time runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova to make the third round.
  • 19-year-old American wildcard Caroline Dolehide upset No. 30 seed Dominika Cibulkova to enter round three.
  • 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, who is already ranked No. 44 in the world, eased past qualifier Ricardas Berankis 6-3, 6-4 in his opener.
  • 18-year-old American Catherine ‘CiCi’ Bellis, the world No. 45, crushed qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-0, 6-3

Shapovalov is still very young but his shock run to the semi-finals at the Masters 1000 in Canada last year, followed by his fourth round showing at the US Open have thrust him into the spotlight. He’s not getting too carried away though.

“I don’t see myself a favourite in any match. I’m still really young to the tour and there’s so many players I haven’t played,” said Shapovalov on Thursday.

“They’ve been around way longer than me, they’re a lot more experienced than me. So I wouldn’t say I’m the favourite but I definitely do go out in these matches with the confidence and belief in myself that I can beat any of these guys.”

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

They’re young but uber-competitive, respectful but well aware of their own qualities to make them just the right amount of arrogant. And most of them draw inspiration from one another and tend to have each others’ backs.

This is what Shapovalov said about his friend and fellow Canadian Auger-Aliassime on Thursday.

“It’s awesome with his run. Before the tournament I had a quick chat with him, told him ‘it’s something you’re going to have to go through’,” Shapovalov recounted.

“Obviously he’s had some tough draws and some tough weeks but I told him to keep grinding and eventually if you pull out a couple of these matches he’s going to get his confidence.

“His game is here, he’s more than good to beat any of these guys so he deserves to be in the top-100 and I’m just trying to make sure that he knows it as well. We’re brothers and I wish the best for him.”

He said that after telling us that they hung out at his place, played ping pong, and “of course I beat him”, noted Shapovalov.

Some of them try to pretend they’re stoic and cool about their milestone victories, others are wide-eyed and cannot hide their enthusiasm.

“I mean I watched her on TV playing semi-finals at Wimbledon never imagining I will be playing here at Indian Wells. So I’m just going to enjoy the moment. I mean I get to play the person who was in semi-finals of a Slam, that is amazing!” a beaming Zhuk told me ahead of her second round against Magdalena Rybarikova, the No. 18 seed here.

VETERANS FEELING THE HEAT

The men’s tour is led by a 36-year-old Roger Federer and a 31-year-old Rafael Nadal but that’s not to say the older generation is not feeling threatened by the younger guys.

World No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro said the many injuries suffered by top guys like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Raonic, Nadal and others – including himself – are partly due to the power of these younger players.

“The young players are coming so strong, they serve so fast, they hit the ball event faster than me and it’s not easy to play with them at this age. But we are trying to stay in the first positions but our body is feeling the changes,” said Del Potro on Wednesday.

“The game is changing a lot. You can see the new injuries are coming because the game is changing and it’s not normal to have Djokovic, Nishikori, Raonic, me, Murray, everybody injured… Rafa. And that means something is changing with the sport of tennis.”

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