Australian Open 2013: Luke Saville and Top Unknowns in This Year's Tournament
With the men's tennis game dominated by four players and the women's game not much more fluid, it can be hard to imagine that a time will come when players not named Djokovic or Serena will dominate the Grand Slams.
While the time for a new generation of stars to assert their dominance might not yet be upon us, this year's Australian Open will showcase some of the young competitors with the greatest potential to become superstars of the sport.
The list of young talents who never developed into great pros is long, and the majority of the best young competitors are more likely to fade away than they are ever to win a Grand Slam. Still, one or two of these unknowns could one day dominate tennis the way Federer and Sharapova do today.
Here is a look at five of the most talented unknowns competing in this year's Australian Open and why they could surprise handicappers with their performances in Melbourne.
Luke Saville is likely a few years away from competing at the elite level, but the winner of the boy's tournament at last year's Australian Open and the 2011 Wimbledon has been the best juniors player in the world for the past two years. He has shown that he is, perhaps, the brightest young star in the men's game.
Saville won two tournaments in 2012 in Bangkok and Cairns, but has yet to make an impact at the ATP level. His serve easily tops 100 miles per hour and is only getting faster, and he is a very smart player, despite his youthful age of 18.
He is still developing his shot creation, but his success at the junior level identifies him as having as much potential as anyone in his generation.
Saville has a long way to go, but he appears to have the talent to do it.
The devotion that John Millman's fans show toward their hero rivals that shown to some of tennis's best, an impressive feat for someone whose first ATP victory came this month.
Millman is coming off a great performance at the Brisbane International, where he defeated young stars Luke Saville and Donald Young to earn a spot in the main draw, where he earned his first ATP victory of his career. Millman's performance earned him a spot in the Australian Open, his first major.
Millman's fan support is unrivaled for a tennis player of his stature, and his Millminions will surely turn out in Melbourne to watch their hero play. He's playing the best tennis of his life, and he hopes to continue his recent winning ways.
The casual tennis fan may not know who Caroline Garcia is, but Maria Sharapova surely does.
After earning a spot in the 2011 French Open through a wild card and winning her first-round match against Zuzana Ondraskova, Garcia faced Sharapova in the second round. Most 17-year-olds would buckle under the pressure of playing the then-three-time Grand Slam winner, but Garcia came out firing.
She won the first set 6-3, was was well ahead in the second set before Sharapova launched a stunning comeback. Though Sharapova won the match, Garcia gained renown for her performance, with Andy Murray tweeting that she would one day be No. 1 in the world.
Garcia just missed escaping the qualifying round of the 2012 Australian Open, but after reaching the second round of both the aforementioned 2011 French Open and the 2011 Australian Open, it is easy to imagine her once again escaping the first round. With the experience she has gained, a lucky draw could lead to Garcia going far in Melbourne.
Yulia Putintseva put together a nice juniors career, reaching the finals of the juniors tournaments at the 2010 U.S. Open and 2012 Australian Open. She had a great run on the ITF tournament in 2011 and 2012, winning six ITF tournaments and reaching a high ranking of 120.
Putintseva reached the second round of the qualifying draw at last year's French Open, and this year's Australian Open will be her first Grand Slam main draw. In the first round, she plays American Christina McHale, who has a reputation for being a giant killer but who is also vulnerable to a competitor like Putintseva.
Ekaterina Makarova has just one career WTA singles victory all the way back in 2010, but things are still looking good for the 24-year-old Russian at the 2013 Australian Open.
Makarova reached a career-high ranking of No. 19 just this week, and this year's Australian Open will be her 22nd career Grand Slam. She reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal last year in Melbourne after reaching the fourth round the year before. There is no reason to think she can't reach the quarterfinals again at this year's tournament, with the potential to go even further.