Olympic Tennis 2012: 6 Players Who Could Star for Team USA in 2016 Rio Olympics
The 2012 London Olympics have been wildly successful for the United States tennis team, who have already won two gold medals (Serena Williams and the Bryan brothers) and will compete on August 5th for another gold and two bronzes. Yet as exciting a time as this is for Team USA, it is also the end of an era.
Of the 12 members of the American tennis team, nine will be 30 years or older at the next Olympics, with Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber leading the pack at 42 and 39 respectively. The older players include all who were or are in serious medal contention, including Serena Williams (who will be 34), Venus Williams (who will be 36) and the Bryan brothers (who will be 38).
Yet there is a great deal of hope for Team USA. Three young stars, all under the age of 25, were members of the United States team, and there are several other talented young American tennis players who should be ready to compete for Olympic hardware in 2016. Here is a look at a few of the players who will likely contend for the United States at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
After turning out some promising performances at junior Grand Slam events but ultimately failing to advance past the semifinals, Harrison skipped his final two years of junior eligibility and became a professional at 16.
Harrison is only 20 years old and has yet to make much of an impact on the professional level as a singles player. He has reached the second round of a Grand Slam three times but doesn't yet have the strength or experience to advance beyond. He also has yet to win a tournament as a singles player.
As a doubles player, Harrison has already achieved early success, racking up two tournament titles. Harrison won the doubles tournament at the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport in 2011 with partner Matthew Ebden, and the two won again at the BB&T Atlanta Open last month.
Harrison was criticized for his behavior at this year's Olympics, but it was a relatively mild offense and nothing that a few years of growth will not cure. Harrison has tennis experts drooling at the thought of what he could become, and he could be a fixture at the next Olympics or two...or three.
Currently ranked No. 38 in the world at only 24 years old, Sam Querrey has been the most successful of America's young tennis players.
Querrey has reached the final in 12 professional singles tournaments and has won seven, including his most recent victory at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles last month. He's also been a regular in the finals of doubles tournaments, winning four titles (he will compete for his fifth on August 5th).
Querrey has yet to make as much of an impact in the most elite tournaments. His best results at a Grand Slam were three fourth-round finishes, two at the US Open and one at Wimbledon. Most recently, he lost in the third round of the 2012 Wimbledon tournament, losing to Marin Cilic in the second-longest match in Wimbledon's history.
Querrey doesn't have the potential that Ryan Harrison does, but he has demonstrated that he is a serious professional with the talent to win tournaments and compete reasonably well against the elite of the international game. With four more years of experience he could be a very valuable member to the United States team in 2016.
Though he is Canadian-born, Jesse Levine has lived in the United States since he was 13 years old and has said that if he were to compete internationally, he would compete for the United States.
Levine is presently ranked 89th, and though the 24-year-old has yet to win on the ATP Tour, he has claimed four Challengers victories and reached at least the second round of every Grand Slam singles tournament and two Grand Slam doubles tournaments.
Levine is one of the quickest players in the sport, a product of his 5'9", 150-pound frame. He doesn't have overwhelming power, but he hits with great accuracy and is one of the smarter players on the court.
Levine is still working on establishing himself in tennis, and it's far from a foregone conclusion that he will be a selection for Team USA in 2016. Still, he has often been lauded for his hard work, and if he continues to grow as a player, by the time the Rio Olympics roll around, he could be one of the best American players in the sport.
Donald Young has looked very, very bad lately. He hasn't won a match since February, 2012, and Italy's Andreas Seppi knocked him out of the Olympics in the first round 6-4, 6-4, handing Young his 15th consecutive loss.
Still, Young is a very talented young player, and at 23 years old he has plenty of time left to prove his ability. He's won five Challengers singles titles and two Challengers doubles titles and was once the top-ranked junior player in the world. He is currently ranked No. 60 in the professional game, a significant slip from his career high of No. 38 in February.
Young has yet to prove himself against tennis' elite. In the 16 Grand Slam tournaments he has competed in, he has only escaped the first round four times, including a career-best fourth-round exit at the 2011 US Open. He needs to figure out what is ailing him soon before his confidence takes too much of a hit. Young is an exciting young player to watch, and if he can ratchet up his game a few levels, he could become the face of American men's tennis.
New Jersey-native Christina McHale is a member of the 2012 Olympic team, and though she was defeated in the first round by Serbia's Ana Ivanovic, she kept the match close (4-6, 5-7).
McHale is the youngest member of the U.S. tennis team at 20 years old (four days younger than Ryan Harrison), but she has been tremendous in 2012. She has reached the third round in the last four Grand Slam tournaments after winning her first ITF singles final in 2011.
McHale has already proven that she can hold her own against the best in the sport, and though she is still establishing herself, she is the second-highest ranked American woman at No. 26, trailing only Serena Williams.
Christina McHale is the best young American tennis player in the women's game, and if she continues to grow at anything approaching the rate she has recently, she is a shoo-in for the Rio team.
The highest-ranked teenage woman in the world, 19-year-old Sloane Stephens is already serving the ball at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour. She is a pure power player, and that power will only continue to grow as she matures.
Stephens was an ace doubles player in juniors, winning three junior Grand Slam tournaments with partner Timea Babos. She didn't have as much success in the singles tournament, but in 2011 she began to break out as a singles player. At the 2011 US Open, she reached the third round of the tournament, and improved to a fourth-round run at the 2012 French Open.
Stephens has as much upside as any tennis player in the world, man or woman, and it's impossible to predict what kind of player she will be in 2016. She has a unique skill set that very few young players can compete against, and she very well could be the future of American women's tennis.