Last weekend, the four finalists in ATP events were David Goffin, Dominic Thiem, Vasek Pospisil, and Milos Raonic. All were born in the 1990s, making the Kitzbuhel and Washington finals the first all-nineties championship matches in tour history.
It’s about time. The first half of the 1990-born cohort is already 24 years old, an age that used to suggest a tennis player was approaching his prime. Of the four finalists, only Thiem wasn’t born in 1990. (He was born in 1993, making him the youngest finalist of the season so far.)
It has never taken so long for a single-year-or-younger group of ATP players to play each other in a final. For the thirty-one years between 1960 births and 1990 births, it has, on average, taken less than 21 years before youngsters in each cohort face off for a title. It took 24 years and seven months before the 1990 group–with the help of Thiem–finally reached this milestone.
Here are the breakthrough finals for each age group in five-year intervals, to put the 1990 group in perspective:
- 1960s births: Yannick Noah d. Ivan Lendl at the 1981 Richmond WCT, before the 21st birthday of either player.
- 1965-and-later births: Kent Carlsson d. Horacio De La Pena at the 1986 Bari event. Carlsson was barely 18, while De La Pena was still 19.
- 1970s births: Richard Fromberg d. Marc Rosset in Bologna, 1990. Fromberg was a few days past his 20th birthday, and Rosset was 19 and a half.
- 1975-and-later births: Marcelo Rios d. Mark Philippoussis at 1995 Kuala Lumpur. Both were teenagers; the big-serving Aussie was still 18.
- 1980s births: Lleyton Hewitt d. Xavier Malisse at Delray Beach in 1999. Both were 18 years old.
- 1985-and-later births: Rafael Nadal d. Tomas Berdych at 2005 Bastad. Both were 19 years old.
The age of these milestone finals has been steadily creeping up over the last few years. The class of 1987 was a good one, giving us Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, but even those two stars didn’t meet in a final until the 2008 Cincinnati Masters, when both had passed their 21st birthdays.
There’s a sharp downturn after that 1987 class. The ATP didn’t see a 1988-or-younger final until three years later, when Alexandr Dolgopolov faced Marin Cilic in the 2011 Umag title match. In the three years since then, there have been only six more 1988-or-younger finals, including the two last weekend.
Thiem, along with a few other young players, offers hope that the tides are beginning to turn. This week, for the first time since 2005 (when, as we’ve seen, Nadal and Berdych played the last all-teenage final), the ATP top 200 features four teenagers, two of whom–Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev–are not yet 18. Then again, neither Goffin nor Pospisil reached a final until they had been inside the top 200 for three years. We may need to keep looking to 23-year-olds for ATP firsts.