ATP Breakthrough Players of 2012 and Two Who Will Break out in 2013
Every year there are players who transition from grinding it out on the challenger circuit to slowly fulfilling their promise and begin to win some matches on the tour. In 2011, we saw Janko Tipsarevic go from No. 49 in the world to Top 10.
There are many things that contribute to a rise in rankings. A coaching change, a full year of health and renewed confidence can be the difference between being outside the Top 100 and being in the Top 50.
While this list only covers three players who broke through in 2012, my hat is off to players like Brian Baker, Grega Zemlja and David Goffin who also broke through this year.
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After winning the Junior French Open Championships in 2006, the left handed Slovakian had people thinking he would crack the Top 50 within a year. However, after a wrist injury, the rise to stardom has been slower than most expected.
Starting the year outside the Top 100, he has risen to Top 35, thanks to being the only first-time winner on the ATP tour this year.
Signature win of 2012: Beating Tsonga in four sets in the second round of the 2012 U.S. Open.
Reason for his rise: Teaming up with Karol Kucera has sparked a fuse and made him a smarter player. Yes, this is the Karol Kucera who moonballed Andre Agassi all match at the U.S. Open and lived to tell about it.
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"Do not pass Go" (nicknamed coined by @bgtennisnation) spent years on the challenger circuit and a ranking outside the Top 100. 2012 saw him rise from No. 120, to start the year, all the way to the Top 50, thanks in large part to his speed and consistency from the baseline.
For years, tennis insiders have said Japanese players do not have the motivation to work hard because they are paid like rock stars, even if their ranking is around 200. However, with Kei Nishikori firmly planted in the Top 20, and Go now in the Top 50, a new bar has been set for the future of Japanese tennis.
Signature win of 2012: Beating Kei Nishikori in Atlanta.
Reason for his rise: Finally realizing he needs to be more aggressive and develop his weapons on the ATP circuit than he had been on the challenger level.
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Jerzy Janocwiz has been the staple of consistency in terms of rising in the rankings the old-fashioned way. He has earned his points by playing futures and challengers. Starting the year outside the Top 200 and rising to Top 80 in the world. He has reached four challenger finals and has held serve 89 percent of the time, which puts him ahead of Novak Djokovic who holds serve at 87 percent.
To reach the next level, Jerry will need to improve his return game, but he will have plenty of opportunities to earn points in 2013.
Signature win of 2012: Defeating Ernests Gulbis (9-7) in the fifth set to reach the round of 32 at Wimbledon.
Reason for his rise: Big serves, big serves and more big serves.
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The former No. 1 junior in the world enjoyed his best season to date and is already the highest ranked Lithuanian of all time. The Lleyton Hewitt clone wanna-be reached his first career ATP-level final at the Farmers Classic.
In order to keep climbing the rankings he will need to perform well at tournaments that are not depleted from most players performing at the Olympics.
Reason to believe his ranking will rise: He's a great ball striker, who can take the ball early, and has a very good game to beat players he should beat. He is helped by the fact that he was not in the main draw of the 2012 Australian Open and thus has almost no ranking points to defend at the beginning of year.
Expected 2013 ranking: I think his ceiling for next year is around 45, where he will be a player like Goffin.
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Pospisil has shown flashes of brilliance at times with his big serve and big forehand. He is currently residing outside the Top 100, but with these weapons, and his young age being only 22, it is just a matter of time until he begins to put it all together.
This year saw him lose many close matches to top players, including David Nalbandian and Sam Querrey. His breakthrough came at home, beating Andreas Seppi, and has followed it up with a win over Jurgen Melzer this fall.
Reason to believe his ranking will rise: Sooner or later those big weapons will help turn some of those close losses into wins.
Expected 2013 ranking: I see him breaking through into the Top 75 next year, and being a player like Steve Darcis, who is No. 77.