What is the Next Gen Accelerator Programme behind the rise of Jakub Mensik and Joao Fonseca?

Jakub Mensik celebrates
Jakub Mensik from the Czech Republic during a tennis match

Since the start of the 2024 tennis season several young players have made headlines for breakout performances at big tournaments. But what’s behind the rise of teenagers like Doha runner-up Jakub Mensik and Joao Fonseca?

In December 2023 the ATP revamped its ‘Next Gen’ brand to provide more opportunities for up-and-coming young players, meaning tennis fans get to see even more bright young talent on bigger stages. The Next Gen rankings determine the players who feature at the Next Gen Finals after the regular ATP Tour campaign with tennis’ rising stars competing for $2,275,000 in prize money.

Starting from 2024, the Next Gen system now has added benefits for players aged 20 and under who are currently in or breaking into the Top 350 in the ATP Rankings. The new Accelerator programme grants these young players up to eight ATP Challenger Tour 100 and 125 opportunities.

The chance to compete at bigger tournaments is not just great for junior players, but also allows them to advance up the rankings – which provide even more perks.

For players aged 20 and under who get into the Top 250, those chances increase to include one main draw and two qualifying opportunities at the higher ATP 250 level. This applies in weeks which have three or more ATP Tour events, so players have to choose wisely.

The season-ending Next Gen ATP Finals will also look slightly different from this year onwards. Following these changes by the governing body, the age threshold for entry to the Finals will move from 21 and under to 20 and under.

That means the likes of two-time Grand Slam champion Carlos Alcaraz (turning 21 this year) and Holger Rune (also 21 this year) will no longer be eligible to compete in Jeddah, where the Finals take place. The move will give more chances to lesser-known young players, some who are just starting out on the senior tour, to win one of the most prestigious pro titles.

Several players on the Accelerator Programme have already made names for themselves in the wider tennis world over the past few weeks, including by using their new opportunities to enter a 250 tournament to great success.

Dino Prizmic

Kick-starting all the youngsters’ successes this year was 18-year-old Dino Prizmic, who hit headlines for testing Novak Djokovic in his first-round Australian Open match. The young Croatian took a set off the 24-time Grand Slam winner – no mean feat.

The Next Gen player earned praise from Djokovic after a surprisingly tough, four-hour match, which pushed him up to world No 168.

Jakub Mensik

Czech player Jakub Mensik has been the poster boy for the Next Gen Accelerator Programme. He moved to a career-high No 87 in the world rankings, breaking into the top 100 for the first time after a brilliant run at the Qatar Open, an ATP 250 event. The 18-year-old beat three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray and stunned world No 5 Andrey Rublev on his way to a runner-up medal, losing to Karen Khachanov in his first ATP 250 final – and first 250 at all.

He became the youngest player to defeat a Top 5 opponent since Carlos Alcaraz defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas at the 2021 US Open, so who knows what the future holds if he continues to build on this impressive performance.

Mensik’s triumph – and swift rise up the rankings – has put him in first place in the Live Race to Jeddah, as the Next Gen players compete over the course of the season for the eight Finals spots.

READ MORE: Who is Jakub Mensik? The rising star who got an exclusive invite from Novak Djokovic

Alex Michelsen

In second place currently is American Alex Michelsen, who enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2023 and is building on that success so far this year. The 19-year-old played his first 250 event on home soil at the Delray Beach Open in Florida in February. Michelsen has beaten several prominent players already, including Thanasi Kokkinakis in straight sets in Delray Beach and Jiri Lehecka at the Australian Open this year.

He earned his first top-10 win by defeating Alex de Minaur at the Los Cabos Open last week. This time last year he was just inside the top 500. Now, he’s the world No 73.

Joao Fonseca

Another Next Gen player making waves this year is Brazilian Joao Fonseca, who had a dream tournament at the Rio Open. The 17-year-old defeated talented young Frenchman Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin to move from 665th in the world to 343rd, just cracking into the Accelerator Programme.

He became the first player born in 2006 to win a main-draw tour-level match, doing so in front of a thrilled home crowd. Now he’ll get the chance to enter eight Challenger 100 and 125 events, where wins would propel him further up the rankings.

He’s currently sixth in the race to Jeddah, which would be a breakthrough tournament for last year’s US Open junior singles champion. At last year’s ATP Finals Fonseca was a hitting partner for the likes of Alcaraz, new Australian Open winner Jannik Sinner and Daniil Medvedev, learning from some of the best in the world.

And if he gets into the top 250 and makes the most of his main draw ATP 250 entry, he could well replicate Mensik’s success.

By Flo Clifford