Teenage Tennis Players with the Best Chance to Become Grand Slam Champions

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2016

Teenage Tennis Players with the Best Chance to Become Grand Slam Champions

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    Alexander Zverev during the 2016 U.S. Open.
    Alexander Zverev during the 2016 U.S. Open.Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Teenage Grand Slam champions went out of style with Johnny Mac (John McEnroe) short shorts. These days, 30-somethings and players in their late 20s dominate Grand Slams and the top 10 in men's and women's tennis.

    Winners of the 2016 U.S. Open, Stan Wawrinka, 31, and Angelique Kerber, 28, are playing their best tennis late in their careers. So when discussing teen phenoms, it's about prospects with potential.

    Which of today's teens have the talent and tools to one day win a Grand Slam?

    Could American Taylor Fritz be another Juan Martin del Potro? Is Borna Coric the next Novak Djokovic? Will Switzerland's Belinda Bencic one day hoist as many major trophies as her compatriot Martina Hingis? Could Naomi Osaka surpass Kei Nishikori as Japan's best hope of winning a Grand Slam? 

    This list includes players under age 20, with the prowess and promise to one day win a Grand Slam.

    Simply being one of the highest-ranked teens on the ATP World Tour or WTA Tour doesn't automatically qualify a player as a future Slam winner. American Catherine Bellis is having her best year and is ranked No. 115. However, she doesn't make the list because she lacks the size and serve of what has become the prototypical Slam winner in the women's game. 

    As Viv Bernstein of ESPNW wrote in 2011, teenagers no longer win titles. "In the last decade, there has been a shift in women's tennis. In the 1990s, teenagers won 15 Grand Slams on the women's side. In the 2000s, that number dropped to three. In 2001, the average age of a Grand Slam finalist was just under 21. In 2010, it was up to 27. This year, through three Slams, it's 26.5."

    The same thing is happening with men. The youngsters are getting schooled by more experienced players.

    So who are the quick studies? The following are teenagers with the best chance of becoming Grand Slam champions.

Honorable Mentions

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    Frances Tiafoe hits a forehand during a match at the 2016 Winston-Salem Open.
    Frances Tiafoe hits a forehand during a match at the 2016 Winston-Salem Open.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Jelena Ostapenko, Francis Tiafoe and Jared Donaldson get honorable mentions.

    Latvia's Ostapenko, 19, is ranked No. 46. This year she reached the final in Doha, Qatar, and has wins over Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. 

    Nina Pantic of Tennis.com wrote, "The 5'10" Ostapenko has an aggressive baseliner’s style of play, combined with just enough patience to wait for the right opportunity."

    Tiafoe, 18, is among a handful of players hoping to end the Grand Slam drought for American men. "By the time I’m mid-20s I want to be in the top 10 and contesting to win Slams, hitting my peak," he told the Telegraph's Charlie Eccleshare

    After surviving a five-set match against Tiafoe at the U.S. Open, John Isner told reporters the teen's "backhand is world-class," per ESPN's Greg Garber. "He was handling my serve better than anyone, really, maybe outside of Novak (Djokovic). I mean, he was really on it."

    Donaldson turns 20 on October 9, so he squeaks in on the honorable mentions list. When he upset David Goffin at the U.S. Open, Donaldson became the youngest American to reach the third round of the U.S. Open since an 18-year-old Donald Young in 2007.

Daria Kasatkina

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    Daria Kasatkina hits a forehand during the 2016 U.S. Open.
    Daria Kasatkina hits a forehand during the 2016 U.S. Open.Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Daria Kasatkina, 19, won the French Open juniors title in 2014 and has been on a upward trajectory in the WTA rankings. 

    She reached the third round of the Australian Open, where she lost to Serena Williams, who praised the talented young teen after their post-match handshake. 

    "Yeah, I think she's a good player. I thought she had a really good game," Williams told reporters

    This year, Kasatkina reached the Indian Wells quarterfinals and has wins over Venus Williams and Timea Bacsinszky. Last year, Kasatkina reached the third round of the U.S. Open.

Denis Shapovalov

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    Denis Shapovalov shows off the trophy after winning the 2016 Wimbledon juniors title.
    Denis Shapovalov shows off the trophy after winning the 2016 Wimbledon juniors title.Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Canada's Denis Shapovalov won the juniors Wimbledon title this year. Last month, he decided to forgo another year of juniors and play on the ATP and Challenger tours

    The 17-year-old made a splash at the Rogers Cup in July when he upset Nick Kyrgios. It was Shapovalov's main-draw debut. 

    The youngest member of Canada's Davis Cup team, Shapovalov is a lefty with a one-handed backhand. That rare combo will frustrate many future opponents.

Naomi Osaka

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    Naomi Osaka hits a forehand during a match at the 2016 U.S. Open.
    Naomi Osaka hits a forehand during a match at the 2016 U.S. Open.KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images

    Osaka suffered a heartbreaking loss to Madison Keys at this year's U.S. Open. The 18-year-old was up 5-1 in the third set before Keys stormed back. Although Osaka left a loser that day, she showcased her big-match potential. 

    She defeated CoCo Vandeweghe in her first-round match at the U.S. Open and is into the Toray Pan Pacific Open final in Tokyo, which shows she's maturing in a hurry. 

    In her quarterfinal match in Tokyo, Osaka was down 0-5 in the second set and came back to defeat Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

    She trailed Elina Svitolina by a set in the semifinals and came back to win the match 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 to reach her first WTA final, where she'll take on former No. 1 Wozniacki.

Taylor Fritz

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    Taylor Fritz hits a backhand during a match at the 2016 Winston-Salem Open.
    Taylor Fritz hits a backhand during a match at the 2016 Winston-Salem Open.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Fritz, 18, is the only married teenager on this list of future stars, and on the court, Fritz displays poise beyond his years. 

    His mother, Kathy May, reached the top 10, and his father is a tennis coach. John McEnroe thinks Fritz is a future top-10 player, as he told the BBC (h/t the Washington Post's Chuck Culpepper).  

    The Washington Post's Dan Steinberg noted his rapid rise: "Fritz was the world’s 1,148th-ranked player in early 2015. His audacious goal this year was to crack the top 100; he got there by late February. He made his first final that month in Memphis—the youngest American to do so in a quarter-century."

Belinda Bencic

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    Belinda Bencic hits a backhand during at match at the 2016 Toray Pan Pacific tournament in Tokyo.
    Belinda Bencic hits a backhand during at match at the 2016 Toray Pan Pacific tournament in Tokyo.KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images

    Of all the teens on this list, Bencic has achieved the most. She's already defeated Serena Williams and reached a career-high No. 7.

    She advanced to the fourth round at the Australian Open, where she lost to Maria Sharapova. Fellow teen Ana Konjuh defeated Bencic in the third round of the U.S. Open. 

    Bencic has struggled with injuries this year. A wrist injury forced her to retire in the second round at Wimbledon, and she skipped the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

    She has a solid all-around game. However, her serve is still a liability. But what she lacks in power, she makes up for in shot selection and court sense.

Borna Coric

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    Borna Coric hits a forehand during a 2016 Davis Cup tie against France.
    Borna Coric hits a forehand during a 2016 Davis Cup tie against France.ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/Getty Images

    Coric's win over Jack Sock in the Davis Cup quarterfinal against the United States kept Croatia alive, and the 19-year-old has played an instrumental part in his nation's run to the Davis Cup final in November. 

    However, he's nursing a knee injury that might keep him out of the final. 

    Still, he's the second-highest ranked teenager on the ATP Tour, behind Alexander Zverev. 

    He had back-to-back wins over Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati—the win over Nadal ended a 10-match losing streak to top-10 opponents. He also defeated fellow teen Fritz in the opening round at the 2016 French Open.

    Coric compares himself to Djokovic when it comes to self-discipline. He told Sport 360's Reem Abulleil: "I think you need to have that kind of thing where you just know that you can’t do some things which you want to do. I would like to have tiramisu now, but I know that I just can’t. I would like to go out with my friends tonight, but I can’t because I’m playing on Saturday and I need to recover."

Ana Konjuh

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    Ana Konjuh tries a backhand slice during a match at the 2016 Guangzhou Open.
    Ana Konjuh tries a backhand slice during a match at the 2016 Guangzhou Open.Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

    Konjuh was the cinderella story of the 2016 U.S. Open. The 18-year-old reached the quarterfinals after upsetting No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska just three years after winning the U.S. Open juniors title. 

    Although Karolina Pliskova steamrolled the teen en route to the final, Konjuh showcased her big-hitting skills. 

    She's strong, athletic and focused. She's risen to No. 55 and could climb a couple of spots higher after reaching the semifinals at the Guangzhou International Women's Open, where she lost a tight match, 7-5, 7-6 (7), to defending champion and former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic.

Alexander Zverev

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    Alexander Zverev serves during a match at the 2016 U.S. Open.
    Alexander Zverev serves during a match at the 2016 U.S. Open.Elsa/Getty Images

    Nadal once called Zverev a future No. 1. "He is amazingly talented. He is a clear possible future No.1. He has all the shots," Nadal told tennis writer Alex Sharp of Wimbledon.com

    Sharp pointed out that the average speed of Zverev's second serve (104 mph) was the same as Nadal's first serve. 

    At 6'6", Zverev is long but agile for a big man. 

    After losing to Zverev at the Gerry Weber Open earlier this year, Federer said, per Vogue magazine's Mark Guiducci, "This, if you like, is the weakest Zverev we’ll ever see. He will only get better from here."

    Of all the teen players, Zverev seems most prepared to win multiple Grand Slams.

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