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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, July 18, 2016

 
Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios

"If you could combine Kyrgios' talent and his game with someone who may be more disciplined mentally, then you'd have someone who could be one of the greats," says Andy Roddick.

Photo credit: Hopman Cup

Andy Roddick knows about making explosive entrances.

Fifteen years ago, an 18-year-old Roddick announced his potential powering past a pair of former world No. 1 players—Marcelo Rios and Pete Sampras—in succession en route to the Miami quarterfinals where he lost to future No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt.

More: Roddick on Djokovic, Federer and GOAT

It was a performance that announced the teenage Roddick as a future champion.

In a conference call to promote his August 9th World TeamTennis appearance for the New York Empire at Forest Hills, we asked Roddick to rate the upside of three talented young players: Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev.

The former world No. 1 calls Zverev one of the top young talent he's seen in years, believes if Kyrgios can mature and become more disciplined he can be "one of the greats" and points to Thiem backing up his Roland Garros semifinal run by winning Stuttgart on grass as a significant step in his development.

"Upside is tough to predict," Roddick said. "I think it's easier to predict which young prospects can make it to the Top 10. But then trying to choose which ones will be Grand Slam champions (is tough).

"I will say two or three years ago there weren't a lot of young guys making a big impact beating the big names. Now, all three of the guys you named have huge games and we'll see where it takes them."

The ninth-ranked Thiem, who has won four titles and posted a 4-6 record vs. Top 10 opponents this season, defeated seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer on grass in the Stuttgart semifinals last month. That victory came after the Austrian defeated Federer on the red clay of Rome in May following a Buenos Aires conquest of nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal earlier this season.





Thiem is most comfortable on clay, but has shown versatility and adaptability winning titles on three different surfaces this season.

"Thiem, on slow courts with big swings, we knew his upside was there," Roddick said. "I was encouraged by him. I know he didn't have a great Wimbledon, but in the warm-up tournament being able to transition from slow clay where people thought that might be his bread-and-butter to playing well on grass, I thought was a huge thing. That struck me as something very important."

The enigmatic Kyrgios, who is 5-7 vs. Top 10 players this season, including a straight-sets win over Marin Cilic to claim his first title in Marseille, may be the most physically gifted of the group.

Shot selection, fitness and maturity have all been issues for Kyrgios, who famously upset Nadal at the 2014 Wimbledon, toppled Federer in Madrid last year and fell to Andy Murray in the Wimbledon fourth round earlier this month, admitting when the going gets tough he can get "a little bit soft."

Roddick believes if the 21-year-old Aussie can mature and bring concentration and commitment to every point, he "could be one of the greats."

"Kyrgios it's gonna be between the ears," Roddick said. "And he admitted that much (at Wimbledon). His upside is amazing. If you could combine his talent and his game with someone who may be more disciplined mentally, then you'd have someone who could be one of the greats."



Last month, the 19-year-old Zverev dethroned Federer on grass, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-3, scoring the biggest win of his career in advancing to his first Halle final.

"He’s got a big serve, he’s got a nice backhand, he’s improving his forehand and his moving forward," Federer said. "So, every week that goes by I think he’s going to be a tough player in the future, no doubt about it."

The next generation star, who held a match point against Nadal in Indian Wells before bowing, impresses Roddick with his dedication and intelligence.

"I love Zverev. I saw him play in DC last year and I tweeted out I thought we could be looking at a guy who could be the best young player I'd seen in a long time," Roddick said. "I've heard his work ethic is great. I've heard him speak and been impressed so you definitely have great prospects which is great to watch."

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has said we are witnessing the evolution of the game right now with Thiem, Kyrgios and Zverev among those leading the next wave of future champions.

"It is exciting, because tennis definitely needs the next generation of young players who are playing the way Dominic does and challenging the best players in the world," Djokovic said.

The maturation process takes time and commitment transcends the work between the lines.

"It's a process for every young player to really develop and understand what it takes mentally, physically, emotionally, to get to the top of the world and win major titles," Djokovic said. "It's a long road ahead for (Thiem) and for everybody else, but definitely they are on the right track. Kyrgios is another prospect, somebody that has a bright future if he continues going on this path.

"So it's not easy. Of course nowadays it's tougher to break through to the top than it was maybe ten years ago when I was doing it. That's my opinion. Game is physical nowadays more and the point system is such that it doesn't go into the favor of bit lower ranked players trying to break through. It takes a lot of effort, and I do appreciate and respect the young players out there. I see their effort; I see their commitment and dedication."


 

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