Top Seven Young Players to Watch in Men's Tennis
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Who will be the next big thing?
It’s a question that tennis fans and writers have posed to each other for decades. Although it can be a fun and enlightening process, popular predictions rarely work out.
But Tennis Now is going to do it anyway. And as an additional caveat, our list will be made of the most promising players younger than 21 years old.
You'll probably recognize a few of the names on this last, but read on. You might learn something new.
Milos Raonic, 20, Canada
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At No. 26, Raonic is the highest-ranked player in our list. The 6'5" Canadian began his assault on the ATP Tour at the beginning of the year, when he fought his way through qualifying to get to the fourth round of the Australian Open, where he lost to David Ferrer in four sets.
Then, as the World No. 84, he won his first ATP title in San Jose, where he beat Fernando Verdasco in the final.
The Canadian’s success lies in his big serve. In less than a year, he has established himself as one of the best servers on the ATP Tour. He has hit 509 aces, the third most on tour, and is tied with Roger Federer, Feliciano Lopez and Andy Roddick for first serve points won at 78 percent.
He is also the sixth most successful man on tour at holding his own serve. He has won 88 percent of his service games, the same percent that 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has won.
At Wimbledon, Raonic was considered by many to be a dark horse. He won his first-round match against Marc Gicquel, but at 2-2 in the first set in his second-round match against Gilles Muller he slipped on the grass and hurt his hip. He had to retire in the next game.
Raonic underwent surgery on the hip on July 5 in Vail, Colorado, and he said he hopes to return in time for the US Open.
If it works out that way, then he will surely be rusty. But the faster hard courts will suit the Canadian’s game, and if he gets the right draw, he could make a deep run.
Grigor Dimitrov, 20, Bulgaria
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Much has been written about Dimitrov because his smooth ground strokes, killer forehand and one-handed backhand have drawn comparisons to 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.
There are plenty of indications that Dimitrov is more than just hype. In 2008, he won the Wimbledon and US Open junior titles, and within the last year he has risen from No. 309 to No. 56 in the rankings.
Like Raonic, the Bulgarian impressed at this year’s Australian Open. He battled through qualifying and beat Andrey Golubev, his second win against a top 40 player in his career. Dimitrov lost to World No. 16 Stanislas Wawrinka, who went on to reach the quarterfinals, in the second round.
In April, he beat then No. 25 Marcos Baghdatis en route to his first ATP quarterfinal in Munich, and he advanced to the same stage on the grass courts of Eastbourne in June.
At Wimbledon, he took the first set from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before losing what was a compelling match.
Going into the North American hard court series of tournaments, Dimitrov’s ranking is sure to increase because he played none of the US Open series tournaments last year.
Bernard Tomic, 18, Australia
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Tomic is not only the youngest player in our list, but the one who has had the most success in a Grand Slam. The 18-year-old worked his way through qualifying at Wimbledon and scored outstanding wins against Nikolay Davydenko, Robin Soderling and Xavier Malisse before he lost in the quarterfinals to Novak Djokovic.
Those who have watched Tomic’s short career were probably not surprised by the Australian’s run in Wimbledon.
Despite being eliminated in the second round of qualifying at the 2008 Australian Open, he prevailed in the junior division, winning the first of his two junior Grand Slam titles.
At this year’s Australian Open, he won his first match against a top 40 player when he took down Feliciano Lopez in straight sets to make the third round.
In 2010, Tomic gave the then No. 14 Marin Cilic all he could handle in the second round, but he wasn’t able to capitalize on a 2-1 set lead.
He started 2011 ranked No. 209, and with his Wimbledon quarterfinal, as well as solid results on the challenger level, his ranking has shot up to No. 73, making him the top-ranked Australian.
Although he’s 6'4" tall, Tomic plays a more cerebral style of tennis, and uses his power only when he has to.
“Look, the way I play, I catch a lot of guys out with not a lot of power. My strengths are, you know, I can find players' weaknesses really quickly. That's what I've always been good at when I was young,” Tomic told AustralianOpen.com.
“I can hit the ball hard, but I don't do it a lot of the time. That's sort the not my game, playing hard. But, you know, I like to play against players, make 'em miss sort of thing."
Like Dimitrov, and other players on this list, Tomic could gain a considerable number of ranking points because he didn’t play in any of the North American hard court tournaments last year.
Ryan Harrison, 19, United States
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It’s always good to see an American on a list like this, considering there are only 10 in the top 100.
Harrison recently had a breakthrough of his own, as he made his first ATP semifinal at the Atlanta Tennis Championships last week, and then the semifinals at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles the next week.
He faced Fish again in Los Angeles, and he gave a much better account for himself. He took a set from the World No. 8, and lost in a tiebreaker in the third set.
Harrison’s performances in Atlanta and Los Angeles aren't surprising considering his results from earlier this year.
The American then took a set from World No. 5 Robin Soderling in the first round of the French Open, and at Wimbledon he beat No. 37 Ivan Dodig of Croatia in the first round, before falling to David Ferrer in five sets.
Looking further back, Harrison was ranked No. 7 in the world in juniors and he advanced to the semifinals of the 2008 Australian Open junior tournament.
The 19-year-old is a good athlete with a solid all-court game. He frequently steps inside of the baseline to attack his opponent’s second serves, and he’s shown an affinity for serving and volleying.
Harrison also does well on his own serve, as he’s held 77 percent of his service games.
Although it is still too early to tell whether he will be another Andy Roddick, Harrison’s success so far shows that there is a possibility.
Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, 20, Germany
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Now we’re getting into unknown territory (at least for Americans).
Stebe, one of two left-handed players on our list, turned professional in 2010. At the beginning of 2011, he was ranked No. 375, and since then he won two futures tournaments, played through qualifying to lose in the final of his first challenger, and beat Ryan Harrison in the final round of qualifying to make his first Grand Slam appearance at Wimbledon.
Ironically, he lost to another player on our list, Grigor Dimitrov, in straight sets in the first round.
But it set the stage for what has been an impressive run for the 20-year-old. On the clay courts of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, he beat former World No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko and French Open quarterfinalist Fabio Fognini to not only score his first two ATP-level wins, but to make his first ATP quarterfinal.
Stebe is now at a career high No. 149, and he’s posted a 45-15 match record in all competitions.
The future looks good for the German, who lists David Nalbandian as his idol.
His game even reflects the Argentine’s. Aside from an effective serve, Stebe’s two-handed backhand looks to be one of his best shots. He is also consistent from the baseline and highly mobile.
He’s shown he has the game to beat players within the top 30 in the world, but can he make it last? I’m sure German fans have their fingers crossed.
Federico Del Bonis, 20, Argentina
Del Bonis is the second lefty in our list. Hailing from Azul, Argentina, the 6'3" inch Argentine is currently ranked No. 203, although he reached a career-high of No. 117 as a 19-year-old.
Like Stebe, the 20-year-old had his first breakthrough in Stuttgart. He played his way through qualifying and beat 20th-ranked Florian Mayer and 45th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in straight sets, before he lost to former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 4-6, 4-6 in the semifinal.
In his match against Ferrero, del Bonis showed that he uses his forehand, which he gets plenty of spin on to control points, while he can take shots early with his two-handed backhand and hit winners.
In fact, his preferred way to construct points is to open up the court with an inside-out forehand, and then direct the backhand up the line.
The Argentine also has plenty of pace and spin on his serve and good touch around the net.
His strokes and game style appear to be best suited to clay courts because he takes big swings on his forehand. Yet, he said that he likes to play on outdoor hard courts as well, and his results indicate his preference as he lost in the semifinal of the challenger in Sao Paolo, Brazil, earlier this year.
If his level of play in Stuttgart wasn’t a fluke, there is a promising future for del Bonis. He certainly has the game to do well on the clay.
Filip Krajinovic, 19, Serbia
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The final youngster on the list, Krajinovic, reached a career high of No. 170 as an 18-year-old. His first breakthrough came at the 2010 Serbia Open in Belgrade, where he got to his first ATP semifinal.
Most notably, he won the first set against Novak Djokovic before the current World No. 1 retired at the start of the second set. Krajinovic eventually lost in the semifinal to eventual champion and World No. 22, Sam Querrey.
Krajinovic has been on the radar for a while. As a 13-year-old, the Serbian made the fourth round of the 2006 Orange Bowl, where he lost to Bernard Tomic 7-6 (3), 6-0. Soon after that, he signed a contract with the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fl., and he went on to win four junior singles titles that year.
In 2008, he made the fourth round of the junior French Open, then made the semifinals at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Krajinovic has been described as having a game similar to Andre Agassi’s, and Bollettieri described his ground strokes as “devastating” and the best part of his game.
Unfortunately for the Serb, a shoulder injury derailed his 2011 season, which has caused his ranking to drop to No. 529.
Since he’s only 19, Krajinovic has plenty of time to get over his shoulder injury and make his mark on the tour.