How Far Away Each Top Young Tennis Talent Is from Being a Star
As we watch them in the final stages of their incredible careers, it's hard not to wonder about the next generation of talented players.
By next generation, I mean those born in the 1990s, when Federer and Williams were being talked about as possible future stars.
Some, like Jerzy Janowicz, have already made a splash. Others, such as Grigor Dimitrov, are working to live up to the hype.
Then there are those like Simona Halep, who is ranked No. 23. Halep, 22, has quietly won three WTA titles this year.
These young, talented players are inching toward stardom. But just how close are they to becoming bona fide stars?
If we simply consider ranking, No. 11 Kei Nishikori is on the fast track to star status.
But rank is just one element of stardom. Do they have the moxie to match their games? Are they appealing to fans? Can they capture our attention and hold it?
Many are labeled "budding stars." Just how close are they to sustaining stardom?
Jerzy Janowicz: Well on His Way
Jerzy Janowicz already proved he can go deep in a Grand Slam tournament.
He reached the Wimbledon semifinals against Andy Murray. Even with a nation behind his more experienced opponent, Janowicz managed to take the first set.
Only 22 and already ranked No. 18, Janowicz has the combination of imposing height (6'8") and versatility. He's like John Isner with agility.
Janowicz needs to manage his emotional highs and lows on the court; otherwise, he's not that far from being a perennial top-10 player.
His intense persona makes him compelling to watch, and Janowicz is closing in on stardom. It's hard to ignore a giant with attitude.
Sloane Stephens: Hitting a Wall
Sloane Stephens, in some ways, has already reached star status.
That deep-dimpled smile makes Stephens marketable, and she's done well in Grand Slam events. She also manages to stay in the news.
However, her career has featured both peaks and valleys.
One month, she's reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. The next, she is being bounced in the first round of the Citi Open by a no-name.
The only thing separating Stephens from superstardom is a Grand Slam win.
She has American fans hungry for someone to take the mantel from the Williams sisters. It's hers for the taking.
Kei Nishikori: Knocking at the Door
Ranked No. 11, Kei Nishikori is knocking at the door of the ATP Top 10.
But how far is he from being a star?
He's got charisma and mega style points.
He set a goal to be the No.1 player in Japan. Suddenly, he is the No. 11 player in the world. He now has his sights set on making the ATP Top 10.
If he ever wins a Grand Slam, expect to see frenzy similar to that created in China when Li Na won the 2011 French Open.
Madison Keys: Just Getting Started
With some impressive wins under her belt this year, including upsetting Li Na in Madrid, Madison Keys is turning some heads.
Tennis commentator Brad Gilbert nicknamed her Madison "Avenue" Keys.
Only 18, she has quite a way to go before we call her a star. But she also has perhaps the biggest upside to her game.
She has power, finesse at the net, and a sense of focus and calm on the court seldom seen in today's teenage players.
Grigor Dimitrov: Looks Can Be Deceiving
Considering all the hype surrounding No. 32 Grigor Dimitrov, the kid is actually handling things well.
However, he has not performed as well as some of his peers, like Janowicz and Nishikori, who get far less press.
His whole "fake-a-Fed" act borders on creepy. He can keep trying to look like Federer and play like Federer, but until he begins winning like Federer, Dimitrov will be best known as Maria Sharapova's boyfriend.
Laura Robson: True Brit
British tennis fans are still celebrating Andy Murray's historic win at Wimbledon, but that doesn't mean the pressure is off of young Laura Robson.
In fact, Murray's success may have placed even more pressure on Robson.
She reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, where she lost to Kaia Kanepi.
Robson reportedly doesn't have a full-time coach, which might explain her sometimes-erratic play. She could benefit from a bit of fine-tuning, as her game is still too rough around the edges.
Unless she learns to harness her power and improve her shot selection, the Brit could flame out before she catches on fire.
Milos Raonic: Big Deal
Going into the Citi Open, Milos Raonic had lost three of his last four matches, including a second-round loss at Wimbledon to Igor Sijsling, a guy ranked No. 64.
That's the problem with Raonic. He is 0-3 against top-10 players this year. No big deal. But he's also 9-17 against top-10 players for his career.
Ranked No. 13, Raonic needs to put together a string of impressive victories over highly ranked players to catapult into star status.
It helps to have the Canadian nation behind him.
Simona Halep: Quiet Storm
Shhhhh, Simona Halep is quietly having a breakout year.
She has won three titles, and you can see her game and confidence growing week to week.
While others like Sloane Stephens and Laura Robson grab the headlines, Halep is moving up the rankings in a business-like fashion.
If she keeps up this play, she won't be able to keep her talent a secret much longer.
Jamie Hampton: This Girl Is on Fire
Jamie Hampton played her first tournament as a seeded player when she received a bye at the Bank of the West Classic.
Hampton is getting more accustomed to life as a serious threat on the tour. Currently ranked No. 29, Hampton is the third-ranked American behind Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens.
She reached the finals in Eastbourne. However, Sloane Stephens defeated her in the first round at Wimbledon.
Hampton's issue appears to be durability. If she can stay healthy, she could charge into the ATP Top 20.