U.S. Open 2012: Can 5 Young ATP Talents Defeat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic?

Jeremy EcksteinFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2012

U.S. Open 2012: Can 5 Young ATP Talents Defeat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic?

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    Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will get the lion’s share of headlines for the 2012 U.S. Open, with Andy Murray earning his way into the conversation.

    There will also be cursory glances at other also-rans including Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and former champions Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick. Even Rafael Nadal has made waves by not competing.

    What about the next generation of tennis stars? Which young, heralded players could one day win Grand Slams on the ATP tour? Could one of them make a splash in the next couple of weeks at the U.S. Open?

    Here are five young players with talent that could cause a big upset.

Marin Cilic

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    Time may be running out on the 23-year-old Marin Cilic’s development. The 6’6” Croatian is ranked No. 13, but seems to have stalled after some impressive tennis in 2009-2010. He defeated Andy Murray at the 2009 U.S. Open and made a run to the 2010 Australian semifinal.

    Cilic likes hard courts best and has good footwork for his size. He can stride and hit balls that are in the corner, and his serve and strokes can be powerful when he is in the zone.

    Though Cilic is talented, he often wilts against better players. At last week’s quarterfinals at Cincinnati, Cilic unraveled against Novak Djokovic. The longer the match, the more he seemed to give in. He lost 6-3, 6-2. 

    Cilic is fortunate to be coached by Bob Brett, who has worked with several great professionals including Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic. Can he help Cilic develop his stokes and mental strength to win a Grand Slam?

    The Croat’s road runs through potential meetings with Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and a quarterfinal possibility with Andy Murray.

    Should Cilic meet up with Federer, his 0-3 head-to-head record includes a four-set loss at the 2011 U.S. Open.

    If Cilic faces Djokovic in the finals, his 0-7 record on hard courts does not bode well.

Alexandr Dolgopolov

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    He is an entertainer with a cool ponytail hairstyle and at times a magician with his variety of slices and angles. The 23-year-old Dolgopolov generates surprising power for his 160-pound frame, but is it enough to win a Grand Slam in today’s ATP?

    Dolgopolov’s forehand has enough power and slice to bother opponents, but he is inconsistent. Likewise, he can be unpredictable on the backhand side, but at times he is his own worst enemy.

    Though he has good speed and athleticism, Dolgopolov may outthink himself with too many dropshots and high-risk chances. Most alarming, he seems to lose in early rounds often, but sometimes puts together a good run and competes hard against top opponents.

    He has taken a step back in 2012 but remains capable of putting things together for some big upsets or a semifinal appearance.

    Dolgopolov could meet up with Djokovic in the fourth round, and his 0-2 head-to-head record includes a three-set loss at Monte Carlo and at the 2011 U.S. Open.

    In the finals, if he faces Federer, against whom he had one loss in 2010, it would be entertaining to see them create shots in a second match.

Milos Raonic

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    Raonic is probably everyone’s choice as a top prospect. The large moon-faced, super-serving 21-year-old Canadian is ranked No. 16. He has already flashed his Grand Slam potential with solid strokes on clay, particularly with a nail-biting loss to Roger Federer on Madrid’s blue clay.

    Though his idol is Pete Sampras, it’s not likely he will approach the great champion. Raonic can hit a forehand but is inconsistent with the backhand and lacks variety of effective slice. He needs to work on his athleticism and consistency, with the latter more feasible to improve.

    Raonic could really help his game by learning to hone his net skills, but he is uncomfortable there.

    Still, he has the fire power and poise to make a big run at a Grand Slam. Perhaps a breakthrough at this year’s U.S. Open could open the doors to a contending career.

    Raonic has a tough fourth-round possibility in meeting Andy Murray. Should Raonic win, he could face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals.

    A semifinal meeting would likely be against Federer, and his 0-3 head-to-head record includes three tough 2012 matches on three different surfaces in pushing Federer to the limits.

    If he faces Djokovic in the finals, it would be their first meeting.

Bernard Tomic

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    Australia’s young talented 19-year-old has the potential to be a star on the ATP. He is ranked No. 43 but is quickly picking up experience as he looks for more stability to manage his tennis. He is sinewy with a frame similar to Novak Djokovic.

    Tomic has excellent strokes and athleticism and can play well with both wings. He likes to hit the ball low with a forehand slice and looks to keep opponents off balance. He is a smart player who looks to find weaknesses in his opponents and exploit them

    Though he's talented, some view him as overly confident in his abilities, and there have been stories about his controversial father who happens to be his coach.

    Tomic’s best success was in the 2011 Wimbledon tournament where he defeated No. 5 seed Robin Soderling and took Djokovic to four sets.

    The draw gives Tomic a good chance to make a run. He does have a second-round possibility with Andy Roddick, followed by a possible match with Juan Monaco. But then Juan Martin del Potro would be his obstacle to a semifinal.

    Since his Wimbledon meeting against Djokovic, Tomic has lost to the Serbian in straight sets in Rome and Toronto.

    If the Federer final happens, Tomic has an 0-3 record including a straight sets loss at Cincinnati last week.

Grigor Dimitrov

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    Perhaps the most talented young player could be 21-year-old Bulgarian Dimitrov. He is occasionally thrown into Roger Federer comparisons and was coached by Peter Lundgren, who worked with Federer a decade ago. This has added pressure and expectations according to Kate Flory for ATP.com.

    The free-spirited, scruffy-faced Dimitrov’s strokes show a lot of promise. His single-handed backhand can hit winners up-the-line, and he has smooth mechanics and good court speed.

    His skills need more experience and sharpening. For example, he still needs to improve his anticipation in reading the opponents strokes to improve his footwork. He must improve service returns and gain more consistency with serving, though can often serve in the 120 mph range.

    The No. 56 ranked Dimitrov has a slim opportunity to run through the David Ferrer bracket but would need to get through possible matches with John Isner and hard-working Janko Tipsarevic.

    Dimitrov has never faced either Djokovic or Federer.