Thursday, June 4, 2015

The End of European Dominance?

European men - they're undeniable. Fine, fresh, fierce, they've got it on lock.

For the past decade-plus, the men's tennis landscape has been absolutely dominated by men representing nations the demicontinent named after a mortal woman abducted by Zeus. The Big Four, of course, all hail from there. As do most of the other consistent contenders (Wawrinka, Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga) of the past decade.

By the numbers, it's simply incredible. European men have won:
  • 41 of the past 42 men's major champions (only Juan Martin Del Potro's 2009 US Open win interrupts their reign) (and this will rise to 42 of 43 on Sunday as all four Roland Garros semifinalsts hail from Europe)
  • 67 of the last 68 Masters Series events (only Roddick at Miami 2010 interrupts the streak)
  • 11 of the last 12 World Tour Finals (David Nalbandian's amazing 2005 title the only exception)
  • 10 of the last 11 Davis Cup trophies (USA won in 2007)
8 of the top 10, and 13 of the top 15-ranked ATP singles players represent Europe.

A full 2/3 of the ATP Top 100 are European. Spain leads the pack with 12, with France at 9 and Italy and Germany each with 4. Switzerland, of course, has 2 of the Top 10. The former Yugoslavia has 10 in the Top 100,  the former Czechoslovakia has 5, and the European countries that were part of the Soviet Union have 6. Benelux nations have 5.

Basically, since Andy Roddick won the 2003 US Open, it's been Europe, baby. All Europe.

I will not get into the whys and wherefores of this, although it's a topic I'm very interested in learning and writing more about. (Your thoughts on the matter would be most appreciated in comments.) I'm also not getting into the WTA, which also leans heavily toward Europe, except there's Serena Williams who skews everything she comes into contact with, and some other players such as Li Na.

What got me thinking about this topic was the fact that 7 of the 8 boys in the Roland Garros quarterfinals (and 14 of 16 players in the 3rd round, and 3 of the 4 semifinalists) were from outside Europe: Americans Mmoh, Opelka, Paul, and Fritz; and South Americans Pena Lopez, Ficovich, and Barrios Vera. Only Frenchman Denolly made it to the final 8 (and final 4).

Similarly, only 2 of the 2015 Australian Open junior boys quarterfinalists were European. In the 3 junior majors before that, half of each set of quarterfinalists were European - impressive, but not dominant.

Earlier today, Rob Koenig tweeted about the phenomenon, in response to someone pointing out how poorly Europeans were faring in the boys tournament:

But how accurate is that?

Beyond three guys - Zverev, Rublev, and Safiullin (all junior slam winners) - it's tough to think of any high-profile European boys born after 1996 (thus making them eligible for this year's junior majors) who didn't sign up for this year's French Open. Durasovic, Munar, Fornerie, Ymer-the-younger, San Martin, Karimov, Tsitsipas, Sandkaulen & Denolly were all there, and all but Denolly lost early (mostly to Americans). Tim Van Rijthoven, I suppose, but he's been out nearly all year and struggles mightily on clay. Which, remarkably, isn't something you can say about any top American junior at this point.

Meanwhile, just as many prominent non-Europeans also forewent this event, including Tiafoe, Kozlov, Jasika, and Lee.

A couple of years older than that - your 1995-1996ers - and plenty of European potential jumps out at you: Coric, Edmund, Ymer, Halys, Tatlot, and Khachanov.  But they're very much counterbalanced by the likes of Kyrgios, Chung, Kokkinakis, Donaldson, Nishioka, and Jarry.

Older than that: You say Thiem? I say Sock. You say Vesely? I say Tomic. You say Pouille? I say Schwartzman.

Overall, good youngsters are about half from Europe, half from elsewhere. But it hasn't always been like that.

Check out this from

If you look at the countries of origin of the top 10 players not yet 23 years old, it was an all-European list in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Notably, with the exception of Igor Andreev, every player from each of those lists went on to the Top 10 at some point in their careers.

The next few years, it was still strongly European, with 8, 6, and 8 of the Top 10 being from Europe (I'm counting Korolev as European in this case, even though Kazakhstan is in Asia, but I mean come on).

But then in 2011, only 4 of the Top 10 were from Europe - the lowest number since 2003. Then in 2012, it popped back up to 6.  The site doesn't include year-end 2013 or 2014 age rankings yet, but the current number is again 4.

Not yet 22? 7.

Not yet 21? 4.

Not yet 20? 5.

Not yet 19? 5.

Not yet 18? 5.

Spain, in particular, used to have plenty of players in the lists of youngsters - at least 3 of the Top 20 in nearly every "young" category for years. Now only 1 player, Alvaro Lopez San Martin, is on ANY of the under-X lists, and he'll be gone from the next update, as he turned 18 on Tuesday and is ranked 912, well below current #20 under-19 player Jan Choinski. (And San Martin lost first round of Roland Garros 2015 boys to USA's Opelka.)

So yeah - things are changing.

It's certainly possible that in a decade we'll be talking about Coric, Zverev, Rublev and some as-yet-unclear-player having dominated men's tennis for years like the current Top 4+ have. Possibly the current crop of young Americans, Australians, South Americans, Asians, etc. just won't pan out in the big leagues. And look, it's not like Djokovic or Murray are going anywhere any time soon. They're at the peaks of their careers, no doubt.

But sign after sign suggests that it will be a much more heterodox ATP world we'll be living in, come 2020. Still plenty of Europeans, but maybe not from the same countries, and certainly not winning every damn big tournament there is. More like half.

And I, for one, am very much here for that.


  1. Nice job Jonathan! Showing up the great Koenig. This reminded me of a piece I wrote almost a year ago:
    I analyzed by country instead of by continent, but if we switch it to continent, here's what you get:
    For Europe, I bought on 12 European countries, sold on 11, and held on 2. However, the 12 countries I bought on for Europe were not the top ones like France and Spain. It was the lower ones like Sweden and Romania, which simply can't get much worse.
    For North America, I bought on both Canada and USA, which were no-brainers.
    For South America, I bought on Argentina and Chile, while selling on Brazil, and holding on Colombia.
    Australia was a slam dunk of a buy.
    I sold on the only African country, which was South Africa.
    For Asia, I bought on Korea, India, and Japan, but sold on Taiwan, Israel and Kazakstan (maybe that should be Europe?). I also held on Uzbekistan.
    In total, non-European countries went 8-5-2, while European countries went 12-11-2.
    That may not seem like a huge difference, but a closer look at which countries are going to drop and which countries are going to sore really shows how much the tennis landscape is shifting. Doing this post again, but updated is one of the ones I have planned for August. I'm excited to see where the research leads me given what is happening on the juniors level.

    1. good to see that - had missed it. I'm mostly with you, although France isn't as hard a sell as all that. They keep coming up with new dudes: Halys, Denolly, Moutet ... not saying they'll become the next Tsongas & Gasquets, but not saying they won't

  2. BTW: I loved this part: "You say Thiem? I say Sock. You say Vesely? I say Tomic. You say Pouille? I say Schwartzman."

    I would add for the group slightly older than that, but still young: You say Dimitrov? I say Raonic. Hopefully all this leads to America getting some of its tennis tournaments back. I may or may not still be bitter about Los Angeles losing it's tournament.

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