In tennis, predicting the stars of the future is a notoriously difficult exercise. Over the years, there have been many players tipped for the top who never quite succeeded, countless number one juniors who failed to make the leap into the big league.
Everyone has a different opinion on which of today’s young guns will win tomorrow’s Grand Slams. For every person who thinks Ryan Harrison is the next Andre Agassi, there is another who thinks he’s as overrated as Donald Young. Teenage prodigies are rare, especially in the men’s game, so there is really no way of knowing who will climb the mountain until he is perched securely at the top.
So rather than rank the hottest prospects in men’s tennis based on conjecture, we’ve taken a look at the ATP standings (as of July 29th, 2013) and listed the ten youngest players in the top 100. Along with their exact age and current rankings, we’ve outlined their main achievements to date and discussed their strengths and weaknesses.
Age: 23 years, 2 months
Current ranking: 96
Guido Pella is a player who cracked the top 100 thanks to a series of Challenger titles. However, his 2013 season was one to forget until May, when he qualified for Dusseldorf and beat Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki on his way to the last four.
Pella is a powerfully built man with a big serve and a very effective two-handed backhand. Unusually for an Argentine player, he prefers hard courts to clay, and has an excellent opportunity to continue his ascent of the rankings in the second half of the year. Alas, his progress may have been derailed by the painful adductor injury he suffered at Wimbledon.
Age: 22 years, 7 months
Current ranking: 86
The Belgian is best known for reaching the fourth round of the French Open as a lucky loser in 2012, where he took a set off his idol, Roger Federer. While some might say that too much was made of Goffin’s prospects after that breakthrough, he did go on to reach the third round of Wimbledon and the quarters of two 250 events.
But Goffin’s 2013 has been disappointing so far. He has a 7-18 win-loss record on the ATP Tour, and has recently dropped down to the Challenger circuit in a bid to boost his confidence. The draw gods haven’t been kind to him either: he faced Djokovic in the first round of Roland Garros and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the opening round of Wimbledon. Goffin is a talented, energetic player who likes to take the ball early, but he will have to get physically stronger if he is to compete at the highest level.
Age: 23 years, 2 months
Current ranking: 82
Since reaching the third round of the Australian Open in January, Evgeny Donskoy has decided to keep grinding on the ATP Tour rather than seek ranking points at the Challenger level. Although he has lost more matches than he’s won, many of those defeats came in three sets, and he has given the likes of Andy Murray and Kevin Anderson a tough time on hard courts.
The Russian’s best result to date came in ’s-Hertogenbosch in June, where he beat top-seeded John Isner on his way to the quarter-finals. Donskoy hits hard and flat and can blow less powerful opponents off the court when he’s on form, but to make the latter stages of tournaments more regularly he’ll have to cut down on the unforced errors and develop a Plan B.
Age: 22 years, 5 months
Current ranking: 79
In contrast to his compatriot Donskoy, Andrey Kuznetsov plays a balanced baseline game with a decent margin of error. As a result, he has enjoyed quite a bit of success on clay, although his résumé still lacks a major scalp.
Four Challenger titles pushed him into the top 100 at the end of 2012 and he has remained there ever since, thanks to several second round appearances at ATP events. Until he challenges a top player on a big stage, however, it’s difficult to say whether Kuznetsov is a future champion or just a grinding journeyman.
Age: 23 years, 1 month
Current ranking: 71
Vasek Pospisil has not yet set the world alight, but there are signs that the young Canadian is on the ascent. An unfortunate bout of glandular fever slowed his progress at the beginning of the year, but he gradually picked up momentum, qualifying for Indian Wells and winning a Challenger title in Johannesburg. He also reached the semi-finals of the ATP 250 event in Bogota two weeks ago, although the field there was rather weak.
Pospisil likes to play aggressively and cites Roger Federer as his inspiration. However, he needs to keep working on his relatively ineffective backhand if he hopes to make the top 50. A little more discipline and consistency would have helped him enormously at Roland Garros and Wimbledon this summer, where he lost five set matches in the first and second rounds respectively.
Age: 22 years, 11 months
Current ranking: 57
Is Federico Delbonis the real deal, or did he just have an outstanding week in Hamburg last month? There, the left-hander qualified for the main draw and went on one of the most impressive giant-killing runs of the season, taking down Tommy Robredo, Fernando Verdasco and Roger Federer. He even held match points in the final before falling to Fabio Fognini.
That week of exquisite, aggressive clay court tennis propelled the Argentine into the top 70. He now needs a good showing in the hard court season to prove that he is more than just a flash in the pan.
Age: 20 years, 9 months
Current ranking: 41
The youngest player in the top 100, Bernard Tomic has already ticked off many points on the up-and-comers’ to-do list. He has had a deep run at a Grand Slam – reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2011 – and earlier this year he won his first ATP trophy in Sydney.
In among the good results are some dire performances, and many feel that Tomic’s attitude needs to improve before he can reach the top. But the 6’4” Aussie has done more than enough to prove that he could be a future champion, and his powerful, unorthodox game causes problems for opponents on every surface. With full commitment to training, more astute shot selection and a calmer temperament, the man once jokingly nicknamed “Tomic the Tank Engine” could be having the last laugh.
Age: 22 years, 2 months
Current ranking: 31
Dimitrov is possibly the highest-profile of the ATP’s next generation, thanks to his relationship with Maria Sharapova and favourable comparisons to Roger Federer. The Bulgarian has a splendid one-handed backhand, is a smooth mover and can adapt his game to all surfaces, but his stamina is still considered a weakness – it’s been known for him to cramp as early as the second set in gruelling matches.
The time is ripe for Dimitrov to make a push towards the top 20. He beat Novak Djokovic in Madrid earlier this year, proving that he is no longer fazed by the elite players. If he can perform well on the American hard courts this summer, he will be considered a Grand Slam dark horse in 2014.
Age: 22 years, 8 months
Current ranking: 18
Janowicz shot into the top 30 last October when he qualified for the Paris Masters and beat Andy Murray on his way to the final. Middling results in the first half of 2013 raised doubts about his ability to replicate that success, but the Pole took advantage of an wide-open Wimbledon draw to reach the semi-finals at the All England Club.
At 6’8” and blessed with one of the biggest serves in the sport, Janowicz can remain in the top 20 based on power alone, but he is far from a one-shot player. A great mover, he also has soft hands and an eye for the audacious winner. At the moment, his temperament is an issue, but with greater maturity he could become a genuine contender.
Age: 22 years, 7 months
Current ranking: 13
By far the most accomplished performer on this list, it’s easy to forget that Milos Raonic is still only 22. The Canadian has won four hard court titles and doesn’t look out of place in the top 15, but can he get to the next level? His only win over an elite player came in Tokyo last year, when he saved match points against Andy Murray. Moreover, his progress has stalled somewhat in 2013: in 14 of 16 tournaments, he has lost before the quarter-finals.
Raonic’s serve is a rocket, he isn’t afraid of venturing towards the net and his attitude is exemplary. If he can introduce more variety to his game and return more effectively, he could become as unplayable as Pete Sampras.
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