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Rogers Cup and Tennis' Next Generation

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We're usually writing about hockey here at the Copper and Blue, but with the Rogers Cup taking place this week in Montreal, I decided I had a good excuse to write a little about men's tennis. I've been following Canadian tennis forever, and these last few years have been amazing. Milos Raonic is consistently in the top ten, and Vasek Pospisil has been in and out of the top thirty. Both of them have made a Grand Slam quarterfinal, including Pospisil's run at this year's Wimbledon and Raonic's run to the semis in 2014. The Davis Cup team made one run to the semis two years ago and had a good shot at winning the tournament this year if these two had been healthy (I don't know how many years Daniel Nestor is still going to play, but I badly want them to win the David Cup before he retires). Cheering them on for some of their home ties in Vancouver has been awesome (even the time they lost to France; Gael Monfils is an entertaining guy), among some of my favorite sports memories.

So how good are these guys? Neither is all that close to being the best in the world. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are still dominating, and Andy Murray is back in form this year even as Rafael Nadal has begun to tail off. But all four of these players are at least 28 years old, and we've seen players like Wawrinka and Cilic win Grand Slam tournaments in 2014 and 2015. These top players will likely be getting more vulnerable in the years to come, so maybe Raonic or Pospisil will take advantage.

They won't be alone in looking to do just that. As such, I've decided to compare our two Canadians with other players 25 years old and under who are ranked inside the top 90 by the ATP. Players achieve their rankings by advancing in various tournaments throughout the year, but the tournaments a player chooses to play and the draw(s) a player receives end up having a huge impact on his ranking. In the charts below, I've tried to take that into account. In the first chart, we'll look at how these younger players have performed against the sport's elite so far in 2015 (players in the Rogers Cup are highlighted in green, seeded players in bright green):

Rogers Cup 1

As you can see, this young group of players has really struggled against the sports's elite with a combined 3-30 record against players who were ranked inside the top four. Raonic has played the most against these top players with six of his matches falling into this category (including a win over Nadal). This makes some sense since Raonic is usually playing in the biggest tournaments, and because of his seeding, he often ends up drawn to play a top-four player if both make the quarterfinals; since it's very rare for one of the top four seeds to lose early in a tournament, he meets them there. Pospisil has played the second most matches against this top group with five, and that's just a case of getting a series of tough draws compared to many of his peers.

The most impressive players are Thiem and Nishikori, both of whom have been dominant against players ranked 17-32 and very good against players ranked 5-16 (especially Nishikori). Steve Johnson is with Pospisil in the "tough draws" category given that he's played twenty matches so far this year against opponents ranked inside the top 32 despite losing frequently in those instances (you'd expect those with the most matches to have winning records since that means they're getting more matches per tournament).

But beating the elite players is only half the battle. The best players in the world almost never lose to those who are merely good. In the next chart we'll look at how these younger players have performed against players ranked between 33rd and 128th so far in 2015 (and again, players in the Rogers Cup are highlighted in green, seeded players in bright green):

Rogers Cup 2

This is where Raonic and Nishikori excel compared to the others in the group, and it's the main reason that they've both managed to maintain a top-ten ranking. Vasek Pospisil isn't at that level. I mentioned above that he's had some tough draws, but he'll need to do more against this group of players if he hopes to be in the top thirty consistently. I had compared him with Steve Johnson earlier, and as you can see, Johnson is doing very well against this group despite his struggles against tougher competition.

The other notables here include 18-year-olds Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric both of whom are awfully good against this group already with a pretty decent sample size as well as Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrios who are almost as dominant as Raonic and Nishikori. I was a bit surprised by that, especially in Dimitrov's case since many have said he's had a disappointing season. Those disappointments haven't extended to this lower tier; he just hasn't been able to beat very main tougher opponents. Finally, Dominic Thiem. He's very good against the best, but can't consistently win against the good. If he could find consistency against this group, he'd no doubt make his way into the top ten in short order.

So how do Raonic and Pospisil compare to other younger players? Raonic is right near the top, but by the time the current elite are on their way down, younger players like Kyrios (20), Thiem (21), Zverev (18), and Coric (18) will have improved substantially. Raonic struggles more against tough opponents than others in the top ten, so he'll need to keep improving in order to stay ahead. His non-serving game has already improved a lot over the last three years, so it seems possible to me, but there's probably still a long way to go. As for Pospisil, his ceiling is probably lower, but he doesn't look out of place on this list, and we're only just now heading into his best (hard court) season. With some friendlier draws over the next couple of months, Pospisil could easily end up back inside the top thirty, earn a spot in the Brazil Olympics, and maintain that ranking for years to come.