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Top 10 Up-and-Coming Tennis Proteges

Merlisa Lawrence CorbettFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2014

Top 10 Up-and-Coming Tennis Proteges

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    Nick Kyrgios hits a forehand during the 2014 Rogers Cup in Toronto.
    Nick Kyrgios hits a forehand during the 2014 Rogers Cup in Toronto.USA TODAY Sports

    Every year a fresh crop of talented tennis players emerge from the juniors or ITF circuit to challenge the ATP and WTA Tours' best.

    Only a handful go on to become superstars.

    Who are the tennis stars of tomorrow? What separates one young talent from another?

    Identifying up-and-coming players requires an assessment of the past, present and future. What types of players, based on size and style, have succeeded in the past? What type of play works today? Which youngsters playing in the current game have a career trajectory headed upward?

    For the purpose of this list we excluded players older than 21 and those who have cracked the Top 20. This includes No. 8 Eugenie Bouchard and No. 6 Milos Raonic. They are no longer up-and-coming. They have already arrived. 

    Waiting to join or surpass them are a few talented players to keep on your radar. 

Borna Coric

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    Borna Coric, 17, prepares to hit a forehand during a Davis Cup match against Jerzy Janowicz.
    Borna Coric, 17, prepares to hit a forehand during a Davis Cup match against Jerzy Janowicz.Alik Keplicz/Associated Press

    Age: 17

    Country: Croatia

    ATP Ranking: 202

    Borna Coric is one of two teenagers to qualify for the main draw at the 2014 U.S. Open. The other teen, Yoshihto Nishioka, is ranked No. 245. But at just 5'7", Yoshihito's future looks less promising. 

    Coric, 6'1", and still growing, has a big serve and plays as well on clay as he does on hard courts. 

    American Francis Tiafoe receives more hype than Coric. However, Tiafoe is ranked No. 1151 and lacks Coric's competition experience.

    Still babyfaced, Coric defeated 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz during a Davis Cup match in April. Last month he reached the quarterfinals at a 250-level clay-court tournament in Croatia, where he lost a three-setter to Fabio Fognini. 

     

Taylor Townsend

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    Taylor Townsend hits a forehand during the Citi Open.
    Taylor Townsend hits a forehand during the Citi Open.Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 18

    Country: USA

    WTA Ranking: 103

    Taylor Townsend made headlines two years ago when, despite being the world's No. 1 junior, the USTA reportedly refused to back her until she lost more weight.

    The USTA has changed its tune on Townsend. This year she received a wild card into the main draw. 

    Unlike many of her contemporaries, Townsend plays old-school tennis. She even likes to serve and volley.

    During a pre-tournament press conference, Serena Williams praised Townsend for the variety in her game. She also called Townsend's game "the future of tennis." 

    Deceptively quick, Townsend can cover the court with ease. As she continues to shed pounds, she will become even quicker. 

Jiri Vesely

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    Jiri Vesely hits a forehand during a 2014 Wimbledon match.
    Jiri Vesely hits a forehand during a 2014 Wimbledon match.Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Country: Czech Republic

    ATP Ranking: 75

    Jiri Vesely joins an increasing number of basketball-player-sized tennis stars. At 6'6", he's taller than Milos Raonic, but shorter than John Isner. 

    Oddly, while other up-and-coming stars headed to North America to compete in the U.S. Open series this summer, Vesely opted to stay in Europe and play small clay-court tournaments. 

    Vesely has a huge upside to his game. In 2013, Vesely was named the ATP Tour's Star of Tomorrow. After a couple of years of building a resume largely on the Challenger Tour, Vesely is improving his play on the ATP Tour.

     

Belinda Bencic

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    Belinda Bencic hits a forehand during a match at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships.
    Belinda Bencic hits a forehand during a match at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships.Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

    Age: 17

    Country: Switzerland

    WTA Ranking: 58

    Belinda Bencic has been called the next Martina Hingis. That's partly because she's Swiss and she's sometimes coached by Hingis' mother.

    Bencic reached her first semifinal at the 2014 Family Circle Cup and advanced to the third round at Wimbledon. She finished 2013 ranked outside the Top 200 and has managed to climb to a career-high No. 58. 

    Bencic and Townsend developed something of a rivalry as juniors players. Last year Bencic defeated Townsend in the girls' championship of the French Open and Wimbledon. With steady improvement from both, they could rekindle that rivalry.  

Nick Kyrgios

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    Nick Kyrgios makes a point during a Wimbledon match.
    Nick Kyrgios makes a point during a Wimbledon match.Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    Age: 19

    Country: Australia

    ATP Ranking: 60

    Nick Kyrgios surprised many by reaching the Wimbledon semifinals. The flamboyant Australian upset Rafael Nadal before falling to Raonic.

    Once overshadowed by fellow Aussie Bernard Tomic, Kyrgios has proven to be the more consistent player. He has also supplanted Tomic as the Australian with the brightest future. 

    Now Kyrgios is grabbing headlines and more importantly, winning.

     

Garbine Muguruza

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    Garbine Muguruza hits a forehand during a match at the 2014 Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.
    Garbine Muguruza hits a forehand during a match at the 2014 Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    Country: Spain

    WTA Ranking: 26

    Garbine Muguruza's breakout performance was against her idol Serena Williams at the 2014 French Open. Muguruza upset Williams in the second round, sending the favorite packing and searching for answers.

    She went on to reach the quarterfinals, where she lost to eventual champion, Maria Sharapova

    Aggressive, Muguruza, 6', has the power to hang with the biggest hitters. She has also teamed with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in doubles, where she is ranked No. 21.   

Jack Sock

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    Jack Sock hits a forehand during a match at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
    Jack Sock hits a forehand during a match at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Country: USA

    ATP Ranking: 55

    After a couple of tough years on the tour, Jack Sock is finally seeing some success. Nicknamed "J. Sizzle," Sock seemed destined to join the ranks of the many disappointing American players, such as Ryan Harrison, whose results have yet to live up to the hype. 

    Recently, Sock has had more success in doubles than he has in singles. Sock and partner Vasek Pospisil, won the Wimbledon doubles title, shocking the Bryan brothers. The two went 12-0, a record for men's doubles, before losing to the Bryan brothers in the Western and Southern Open final in Cincinnati.

    With a rocket serve like Andy Roddick's, Sock is just beginning to play to his potential. 

     

Elina Svitolina

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    Elina Svitolina hits a forehand during the 2014 U.S. Open series.
    Elina Svitolina hits a forehand during the 2014 U.S. Open series.Elsa/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Country: Ukraine

    WTA Ranking: 35

    Elina Svitolina upset Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova at the 2014 Western and Southern Open. It was the biggest win of Svitolina's career and her first against an opponent in the Top 10. She entered the match against Kvitova 0-6 against Top 10 players.

    Svitolina won the juniors French Open at age 15 and is the WTA's second-highest ranked teen, behind Madison Keys.  

Dominic Thiem

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    Dominic Thiem prepares to hit a backhand slice during a match at 2014 Wimbledon.
    Dominic Thiem prepares to hit a backhand slice during a match at 2014 Wimbledon.Al Bello/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    Country: Austria

    ATP Ranking: 45

    Nicknamed the "Dominator," Dominic Thiem generated buzz with his dash up the rankings. The talented 20-year-old climbed from No. 303 to No. 139 in 2013. Earlier this year, Thiem set a goal to be in the main draw of the Australian Open in 2015.

    He's ahead of schedule. He's in the main draw of the 2014 U.S. Open. 

Madison Keys

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    Madison Keys hits a backhand during a match at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
    Madison Keys hits a backhand during a match at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.Tom Uhlman/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Age: 19

    Country: USA

    WTA Ranking: 27

    Madison Keys has replaced Sloane Stephens as America's answer to "what happens when the Williams sisters retire?"

    Although Stephens enjoyed a higher ranking when she was 19, Keys has shown more consistency this year. More importantly, she has a better overall game than Stephens and is far more comfortable at the net. 

    She won her first WTA title, at Eastbourne, this year. 

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