In the meantime, just read Colette Lewis, whose comprehensive Saturday summary is right on the money.
The purpose of my trip to Kalamazoo was to be able to watch six of the Excellent Eight*, the top junior boys in the country who make up what some are saying is the most potential-laden group of Americans in decades. I missed the first two quarterfinal matches on Thursday, but knew I could see the two winners of those matches in Saturday's semifinals, along with the other four young men in Friday's semifinals. In all, I was able to see seven of the eight, thanks to a consolation match. I missed only Ernest Escobedo, whom I've watched on Livestream so I'm 100% able to pass judgment on him too.
While we were watching the first set of Altamirano/Kozlov, Colette observed that the speculation around which of the Esteemed Eight** will "make it" is a parlor game. But of course, so much of tennis fandom is made up of such games: Who is the GOAT? How will a given draw play out? Which player is an arrogant jerk whom I haaaaaaaate and which one is super nice and down to earth and I'm sure would be my bestie if I somehow found myself in the right situation? Games are the best!
So here we go: who is going to make it, based on witnessing them play between six and 35 games of tennis?
Who Is Going to Make It, According to On the Rise (a tennis blog)
They've all made it already.
Okay, that's super trite. It's completely unfair to you, the reader, who came to this post with an unprecedented level of anticipation for my learned and objective speculation so that you, too, will have foreknowledge of the professional careers of eight people born between 1995 and 1998.
Fans of American men's tennis are, of course, desperate for That Guy. Surely one of the Elevated Eight*** will become #1 in the world, a multiple-major champion who can include his profile photo on the mythical Wall of Awesome Americans about whom, even if we didn't completely adore or fully appreciate them during their remarkable careers, we can wistfully look back and reminisce: remember back when American tennis didn't suck?
I could do an entire white paper on what such desperate need among fans of American tennis means about our collective psyches; our insecurities; our demanding natures. But as I mentioned, I really do have to get on the road. You see, Chase Buchanan is playing his second and final round of qualies of the Western & Southern Open against Tim Smyczek. Two former junior tennis players who reached the Top 20 of the junior rankings and who, although they've reached the top 200 and top 100 of the ATP rankings, aren't That Guy (see previous paragraph). But to me they're superstars, exceptionally talented athletes who are grinding the grind, doing their best to make a decent living in this unforgiving landscape of world tennis.
There's no question in anyone's mind that at least one of the Ermahgerd Eight**** will contend for a major title some day. There's just too much talent there. But to me, becoming one of the top 8 junior players in this big nation is a remarkable accomplishment for which they should all be exceptionally proud. I'm not trying to lower expectations or suggest that they should be satisfied with being a good or great junior tennis player (heaven forfend anyone be satisfied with their achievements, ever!).
I'm just saying that whatever happens from here on out, they'll always have the 2014 Zoo. They made it to the quarterfinals of their junior national tournament in a memorable year for American junior tennis. They got the world (okay, a small corner of the world but still) to take notice of them through hard work and natural talent and circumstances and a driven parent or two. Putting expectations or pressure on them over the next 15 years is fine but life happens. Injuries happen. The rest of the world happens.
So just consider this post a sincere appreciation of Collin Altamirano, Jared Donaldson, Ernesto Escobedo, Taylor Harry Fritz, Stefan Kozlov, Michael Mmoh, Noah Rubin, and Frances Tiafoe. Whatever happens from here on out, you've made a huge statement this year. Well done. You made it!
(All that having been said, Fritz was the biggest revelation for me. What that kid can do at 16 is goose-pimple-causing.)
(Also, there are quite a few other guys in the tournament with real talent who also have a huge amount to be proud of, and on whom y'all should keep an eye: I saw Deiton Baughman, Logan Smith, Walker Duncan, Tommy Paul, and Henrik Wiersholm, all of whom impressed in their own ways. I missed Reilly Opelka, Trevor Johnson, Aron Hiltzik, Nathan Ponwith, and several others. Nothing I write here is meant to diminish these guys in any way.)
Now seriously, I need to get to Mason.
* Not sure about this nickname
** Yeah, probably not
*** It has a ring to it, no? No.
**** Yeah, we should go with this one