Young Talent – The Dark Horses of Roland Garros 2024!

by Abhinav Hans
jakub mensik on clay court

There has been sufficient coverage on the top contenders to lift the La Coupe des Mousquetaires (The Musketeers’ trophy – awarded to the winner of the Men’s Singles competition at the French Open) in June 2024. While the young guns Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner and Holger Rune to an extent have hogged the spotlight given their early success and charismatic game, there are other lesser-known but promising talents on the red dirt who might be a factor at this year’s French Open.

As numerous legends of this beautiful game have reiterated over the years, tennis is more a game of mental toughness, which is built over time, by experiencing different match situations. For the youth, experience may not be on their side, but talent, hard work and unfading self-belief are their strong suits. Flashback to July 2023 when Carlos Alcaraz in his first Wimbledon final ever at age 20, ended Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten run at Wimbledon (last defeat in 2017). And then in January 2024, when Jannik Sinner ended Djokovic’s unbeaten run at the Australian Open (last defeat in 2018) with his win in the semi-finals. Impressive would be an understatement to describe these wins, taking into account the young age and the stage and level of competition.

Reflecting on their game style and the progress they are making, here are four players of the next generation to look out for during the ongoing clay season and also for the rest of the year; the dark horses amongst the next-gen

A pertinent point to note – apart from the virtues mentioned above, there are some common traits in their playing styles – aggressive game, powerful forehand, big serve. Also, three of them are exactly 6 feet 4 inches tall! 

18-year-old Jakub Mensik

Jakub Mensik

The most promising prospect for me is 18-year-old Jakub Mensik of the Czech Republic. With a big serve and a powerful forehand, the 6”4 Czech has an aggressive baseline game. His breakthrough moment came at the Doha Open this year when he beat Andrey Rublev, Davidovich Fokina, Andy Murray and Gael Monfils, all in just his third tour-level event.

These wins showcased his mental toughness at a very young age along with his ability to attack and dictate points. He eventually lost in the final to Karen Khachanov which involved a tight first set, ending 14-12 in the tiebreaker to Khachanov.

The towering Czech has the game to hurt any player, especially on faster courts. He even took the big-serving Hubert Hurkacz to 5 sets at the Australian Open this year. Currently ranked 74 in the world, Mensik’s first tour level title is not far away. Though his prowess on the clay courts is yet to be documented, he moves well and should be able to replicate his overall attacking game on clay. Hence the Czech teenager can make waves at Roland Garros this year.

Fabian Marozsan

Fabian Marozsan, Hungary

One of the very few tennis talents to emerge from Hungary, the 24-year old reached a career-high ranking of 37 in April 2024. His tennis has been improving with time. His tall (6’4) frame, big serve and an aggressive baseline game combined with a great touch has translated into wins over top 10 players – Carlos Alcaraz in Rome, Casper Ruud in Shanghai, Alex De Minaur and Holger Rune in Miami. Till the Miami Masters 1000 in 2024, he had reached at least the round of 16 of all four Masters 1000 events he had played.

Though a relatively late bloomer, things are starting to fall in place in the game of Fabian Marozsan. Equipped with a deft touch, his drop shots are of the best on tour. His favourite surface is clay, with all 3 of his challenger titles coming on the surface and now we’re waiting for the first ATP title. It will be his first appearance at Roland Garros in 2024 (lost in qualifying last year) and there is a good chance he might just make it deep into the tournament, especially if he is seeded (top 32 players in the draw).

Ben Shelton

The big-hitting lefty recently became the new American No. 1 in April 2024, though for a brief period, after his win in Houston. This was his second title overall, first one in Japan, and first on clay. Ben Shelton’s rise in the rankings has been sharp, from tennis’s minor leagues in 2022 to 15th in the world right now. His top performance came at the 2023 US Open when he reached the semi-finals, eventually losing to world number 1 Novak Djokovic. 

Ben Shelton string setup
Ben Shelton

Equipped with one of the biggest serves on tour and a powerful forehand, the 21-year-old’s strength is the serve+1 (server’s first shot after the serve) which sets up the rally for him. Moreover, he also has a competent net game. He might not have a penchant for clay yet due to his rough start on the surface last year, highlighted by the losses in his last five matches on the surface prior to entering the Houston tournament. But the American is slowly finding his feet on clay and should do well on all surfaces in the future. Even though he may not be expected to go all the way yet at Roland Garros, he surely has the game to take on the top players.

Arthur Fils

19-year old Arthur Fils

The 19-year-old Frenchman is one of the exciting young prospects on tour. Brimming with energy and coupled with a strong build at such a young age, his biggest strength is his explosive forehand, which can open up the court and dictate points.

Though there is still some untapped potential on the serve, Fils’ aggressive game is difficult to handle and is also exciting to watch. 2023 was his breakout year, winning the ATP Newcomer of the Year award. His consistency was marked by his semi-final runs in Montpellier and Marseille and the finals in Antwerp.

These runs were backed by some impressive wins over Casper Ruud, Stan Wawrinka, Stefanos Tsitsipas during the year, with the highlight being his first ATP tour title in Lyon on clay in May 2023.

Fils was also a finalist at the French Open Boys’ Singles in 2021. Regarded as the future of French tennis, a country with a rich tennis tradition, Fils is now ranked 32 in the world. The French have waited long in the men’s game for a Frenchman to win Roland Garros, the last being Yannick Noah’s incredible win in 1983. Fils’ performances at the Grand Slams have not made a mark yet, however, he is likely be a big threat this year at Roland Garros.

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