Boys Grand Slam Winners Developing as Pros, or “Geoffrey Blancaneaux, You’re On the Clock”
In most American sports, there are organizations that closely track future players in that sport — the “prospects” — both at the secondary school and college levels. As far as I know, except for the tour rankings (which are a mess in the far reaches), no one is actually grading tennis prospects in a consistent manner and publishing the results. The tennis federations in some countries, and probably some of the tennis academies, have their own internal prospects lists, but we do not get to see them.
In tennis, the public determines prospects in a far more fractured way. Maybe we notice they are beginning to win a lot at the Challenger level. Maybe they come from a high profile academy, or have a high profile coach, or have an association with an established tour player who touts their abilities. Maybe they win a couple of matches or pull a big upset at a Grand Slam.
Or maybe they won a junior Grand Slam.
For this post, I looked back at all the boys Grand Slam winners since 1990, and tracked their progress to certain milestones in the pro game. That’s 101 players in 117 junior Grand Slam events.
Win Now, Win Later?
I think we tend to assume that success in junior Grand Slams foreshadows success on the Tour, because when someone is successful on the Tour, the media often tells us they won the boys [insert Grand Slam] and we think, “oh, so that explains it.” Maybe it does for some, but certainly not for everyone. Here’s a simple table showing the average age at which the boys won the respective events; the number of ATP Tour singles titles, Masters singles titles and Grand Slams singles championships won (so far); and the median career earnings (including doubles, challengers, etc.)
|Boys||Age||#Titles||#Masters||#GS||Median $$||Median Peak Rank|
|Aus Open||17.35||93||11||1||$ 629,378||118|
|Roland Garros||17.36||111||9||4||$ 1,176,504||58|
|US Open||17.70||181||32||4||$ 6,259,611||21|
*Masters events include Tour Finals. Career earnings for the players are time-adjusted. I was only looking for a rough measure, so they are adjusted based on the U.S. Consumer Price Index, even though most of the players are not U.S. players. Also, to keep things simple I took the midpoint of a player’s career to make the adjustment (e.g., Jurgen Melzer 1999-2019 had his career earnings adjusted based on the CPI for 2009.) I used the median because the mean would be misleading, e.g., Roger Federer won boys Wimbledon. Finally, the median $$ at the bottom of the column is the median of all the players’ earnings in the four boys Grand Slams, eliminating duplicate winners — in other words, it is not the average or median of the medians in the column. The same is true for the peak rank footed number.
Looked at as a group, you might conclude that a boys Grand Slam winner will win about 5 Tour-level finals (534 divided by 101), and probably a Masters event. That is, of course, not true. Federer, Murray and Wawrinka have 162 of those 534 titles, more than half of the Masters and all but 3 of the grand slams. In fact, fewer than half of boys Grand Slam champs have won a title on tour.
But I’ll Still Make a Good Living, Right?
The median earnings of nearly $1.2 million do not look too bad, but most of the players give it a shot for about 10 years from the time they won the boys Grand Slam. If you assume it costs approximately $75,000 a year to maintain your career, you are netting about $45,000 a year. And that’s for the middle performer. It’s much more of a struggle for others. I took out the earnings outliers Federerer, Murray, Wawrinka, Cilic and Roddick, computed the mean and standard deviations of the career earnings of the remaining players, and calculated the likelihood that a boys Grand Slam champion grosses $250,000 or less in his entire career: 24%. Yikes.
Would you continue your tennis career if, immediately after winning the boys Grand Slam, someone told you there is a 24% chance you will have net losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars? Probably. You’re euphoric, and “that won’t happen to me.”
Moving Through the Ranks
The table below shows the percentages of players hitting certain milestones. The first few columns are rankings measuring sticks, and the last two are ATP-level titles and Grand Slams.
|Boys||Top 200||Top 125||Top 100||Top 50||Top 20||Top 10||Top 5||No. 1||Title||Grand Slam|
I am somewhat conflicted about the percentages. You can make a good career out of being a Top 100 player, and you have roughly a 60% chance if you win a boys Grand Slam. And, having a nearly one-third chance of cracking the Top 20 seems pretty decent odds to me.
On the other hand, at the time you win the boys Grand Slam, you probably think of yourself as having a much better chance of cracking the top levels and making it big. Yet nearly one-third will not make the Top 125, which means their careers will not offer many Tour-level main draws. And that, of course, helps explain the previous finding on career earnings.
There are a number of other interesting things/questions you can pull from the data on a tournament-by-tournament basis. I do not want to spend much time on them, because they distract from the rest of the post. But there are a few that stand out.
- Why do Aussie Open boys winners generally fare so much more poorly than US Open boys winners? Maybe because the US Open is later in the year? The average age of the winners is only a few months, but the players are likely to get a lot of experience between January and September of those crucial years.
- No 1990-present boys Roland Garros champion has reached #1.
- Roland Garros boys winners since 2007 have won only 1 ATP title (Rublev), which is quite a drought. But perhaps more surprising, Rublev is also the only Roland Garros boys winner since 2007 to crack the Top 50.
- Wimbledon is on par in many categories, but look how it falls off starting at the Top 20.
- Since 2006, a boys Grand Slam champion has won only 5 masters events, and that’s just two players (Dimitrov and Zverev) out of 35.
There are 14 players who won more than one boys Grand Slam, but for our purposes, we will exclude Tseng Chun-hsin, who won two last year and is 17 years old (still ranked in the 400s). Here’s some of the same data for the elite 13:
|Boys Multiple||#Titles||#Masters||#GS||$$||Peak Rank|
|Andrea Gaudenzi||3||–||–||$ 4,855,720||18|
|Andy Roddick||32||5||1||$ 26,201,659||1|
|Bernard Tomic||4||–||–||$ 6,259,611||17|
|Daniel Elsner||–||–||–||$ 525,222||92|
|Donald Young||–||–||–||$ 5,045,801||38|
|Filip Peliwo||–||–||–||$ 301,990||161|
|Gaël Monfils||8||–||–||$ 17,659,145||6|
|Grigor Dimitrov||8||2||–||$ 17,390,200||3|
|Leander Paes**||1||–||–||$ 11,200,950||73|
|Luke Saville||–||–||–||$ 595,455||152|
|Nicolas Kiefer||6||–||–||$ 10,313,345||4|
|Richard Gasquet||15||–||–||$ 19,646,492||7|
|Thomas Enqvist||19||3||–||$ 16,346,637||4|
Pretty much speaks for itself in terms of having a very successful career, although the big Grand Slam victories remain a long shot, as they should. The earnings includes doubles, but the other columns do not, and with Leander Paes on this list (a good singles player in his youth), it is mandatory to mention not only his 54 titles (with 8 Grand Slams!) but his peak doubles #1. And that’s not counting mixed doubles or his supporting role in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Is winning three better than winning two? We do not have enough data on that. Since 1990, only two players have won three of these: Gael Monfils, who is obviously very good even if you think he has underachieved, and Daniel Elsner, of whom I have never heard.
The information above indicates how likely it is that boys Grand Slam champions reach certain milestones, but not how quickly they reach them (if they do)3. I measured the distance, in months (rounded) between the date of a player’s victory at the boys Grand Slam, and his achievement of those milestones. Here it is by tournament, in chart form, with the number of months shown on the left axis.
Because none of the boys Roland Garros champions since 1990 have reached #1, I set the development time artificially for that data point, to bounce it off the chart. That’s not a key metric anyway, because of the 101 unique players, only four have reached #1 (Federer, Murray, Rios and Roddick), so the sample size is too small to be meaningful.
Aggregating all four boys Grand Slams for each of the above milestones, plus the 1st “real” Grand Slam achievement, give us these box plots. The left axis shows the number of months.
If you are not familiar with box plots, the top and bottom portions of the “sticks” represent the maximum and minimum values respectively. The line in the middle of the box is the median. The “x” inside the box is the mean. The green represents the third quartile and the blue represents the second quartile. Because shorter development times are better, blue boxes are better than green ones.
Blue circles indicate outliers. For instance, it took Razvan Sabau, winner of the 1993 boys Wimbledon, 142 weeks after his victory to crack the Top 125, which is way out of step with the averages (the Wimbledon average is about 40 months).
If you are confused about why the green portion of the development window for the Top 10 is not clearly above the Top 20’s green portion, it’s probably just sample size. We have 23 data points for the Top 10; 17 for the Top 5; and as mentioned, just 4 for reaching #1.
Who is Keeping Time?
With those windows, we can now see which of the recent boys Grand Slam winners are still in the window to hit certain milestones. I am going to use the aggregate windows from the box plot, not the tournament specific development times. I will only go so far as the Top 10 here, where the sample sizes start to break down, plus the 1st title, which means only the winners since 2013 are relevant.
I wish I knew more about how to integrate this into a graphic, but the best I can figure out is to color code a table. If a player has already achieved the milestone, I put the number of months in the table, but if they were late achieving it (i.e., outside the top of the third quartile) it has a red background with white text. Because shorter development times are obviously better, I used a blue shade if they are below the median value — meaning they still have plenty of time — and a green background if they are in the third quartile window — meaning it is getting late in the game, but not beyond a reasonable range. I used a red background if they have missed the third quartile.
So to summarize, bare numbers are great, white numbers with red backgrounds are so-so and indicate slower than normal development, blue blocks are good, green blocks are shaky and red blocks with no numbers are bad.
|Player||Boys GS||Year||CurrRank||Top 200||Top 125||Top 100||Top 50||Top 20||Top 10||1st Title|
|Nick Kyrgios||Aus Open||2013||35||8||18||18||25||39||37|
|Christian Garín||Roland Garros||2013||73||44||65||65||71||71|
|Borna Coric||US Open||2013||13||10||13||13||20||58||43|
|Alexander Zverev||Aus Open||2014||3||6||15||16||27||37||40||32|
|Andrey Rublev||Roland Garros||2014||92||14||35||37||38||38|
|Omar Jasika||US Open||2014||Inactive|
|Roman Safiullin||Aus Open||2015||298|
|Tommy Paul||Roland Garros||2015||204||11|
|Taylor Fritz||US Open||2015||58||2||5||5||37|
|Oliver Anderson||Aus Open||2016||Inactive|
|Geoffrey Blancaneaux||Roland Garros||2016||498|
|Félix Auger-Aliassime||US Open||2016||33||12||25||29||34|
|Zsombor Piros||Aus Open||2017||361|
|Alexei Popyrin||Roland Garros||2017||119||15||20|
|Alejandro Davidovich Fokina||Wimbledon||2017||172||19|
|Wu Yibing||US Open||2017||300|
|Sebastian Korda||Aus Open||2018||515|
|Thiago Seyboth Wild||US Open||2018||384|
|Lorenzo Musetti||Aus Open||2019||582|
The most notable thing on the table is the red box in Nick Kyrgios’s Top 10 column. Don’t read too much into that. As I mentioned, the sample size for the Top 10 is getting sketchy, which is why the bad part of its box plot is lower than the Top 20’s. Still, the truly great players have hit the Top 10 before this stage of Kyrgios’s career, so it is of some concern.
Garin, Quinzi and Rubin have hit some of the milestones, but always late, and they are behind on all of the next milestones. Garin’s recent play has put him close enough to the Top 50 that he may have another late bloom in him, but the leap from #73 to #50 is bigger than it looks.
All the recent winners are in good shape, in many cases because their titles are fresh. But there are standouts. We are paying plenty of attention to the two Canadians, Shapovalov and Auger Aliassime, who are on clearly on track, or ahead of the pace, by this measure. We have paid a lot less attention to the more recent winners, Popyrin and Davidovich Fokina, who also look to be on track by this measure.
Geoffrey Blancaneaux is on the clock. Big time. He is at the back end of the windows for Top 200 and Top 125, so he needs a big surge, and from #498, it’s not looking like he has it in him. Zsombor Piros has a little more time than Blancaneaux, but at #361, he must realize he has been missing targets (literally) and that he is approaching a tipping point in his career.