Donald Young and 5 American Tennis Players Who Will Surge Up Rankings in 2012
American tennis, perhaps more than ever, has several athletes waiting in the wings who are primed and ready to climb the rankings in the coming new year.
They are young (no pun intended), trained since childhood, made a multitude of sacrifices and put in the long and arduous hours—combined with their innate predisposition—to reach a plateau where they can feasibly take the brass ring that shines tantalizingly in front of them.
They are being groomed, with meticulous care, to mature as both human beings and tennis professionals in the hope that a fraction of their limitless potential can be realized.
Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't, but that doesn't stop prognosticators such as myself from making educated extrapolations based on certain, promising signs being shown by six up-and-coming American tennis stars...
We begin with the African American, 22-year-old "prodigy" who headlines this article.
Since making his professional debut at the impressive age of 15, Young has had many expectations, many of them cumbersome, levied upon him.
Starting out, he was believed to be a phenom worthy of great (future) fanfare, endorsements and a bevy of groupies.
For the majority of his career, however, he has shown more signs than actual substance, often reminding fans of the growing pains expected of a callow athlete still finding his way (i.e., controversial tweets from last year).
Recently, though, Young has turned a new leaf, training with a resoluteness that should be emulated by even the sport's foremost veterans.
More fit mentally and physically than ever, Young was able to overcome Andy Murray in March of this year, and just recently made a valiant run in the U.S. Open, getting to the fourth round.
Now that he's prepared to work hard to actualize his potential, Young should be able to leave his current ATP ranking of No. 43 in the dust in the coming year.
The 19-year-old Ryan Harrison, like Donald Young, also began his pro career at the age of 15.
He has endured some setbacks, as far back as 2008 when he simply could not get past the third round in every Grand Slam tournament he attempted.
Then, after being absent for most of 2009, Harrison reemerged again in 2010 as a wild-card entry into several Grand Slam tournaments, but to no avail.
Finally, after much perseverance, Harrison qualified for the U.S. Open, winning his first-ever match in a Grand Slam before succumbing in the second round.
In the 2011 Australian and French Opens, the agile six-footer made courageous showings he would've been incapable of just a year prior.
As of this moment, he stands at No. 66 in the world, but his potential as a lithe quick-stepper—combined with his overall athleticism—has piqued the interest of tennis fans who expect him to inch another step closer to fulfilling his destiny.
The 19-year-old, 5' 7" phenomenon, Christina McHale, has already defeated some of her most noteworthy contemporaries in Caroline Wozniacki (current No. 1), Svetlana Kuznetsova and Alisa Kleybanova.
At the age of 15, she took it upon herself to leave on her own and train to accomplish her dream as a tennis pro.
At the 2009 U.S. Open, as a wild card, she won her first-ever Grand Slam tournament, using that moment as an impetus to continually polish her game.
At the 2011 Family Circle Cup, she reached the quarterfinals for the first time in her career, won her first ITF singles title and outlasted her first-round opponent at Wimbledon.
There's been a lot of firsts for McHale who has been relentlessly applying herself and her talents as a means for bettering her standing among her peers.
She currently stands firmly at No. 45 in the world.
Taking into account what she's shown thus far, expect her to rise to the top 30 by the end of next year.
Sloane Stephens is another up-and-comer looking to soon make a name for herself.
Inspired by Venus and Serena Williams, the 18-year-old had a tough upbringing but overcame it on the way to becoming one of tennis' newest generation of stars.
Climbing slowly but surely up the rankings, Stephens achieved great success for the first time at the 2010 Junior Wimbledon Championships where she not only made the quarterfinals in singles but went all the way in doubles.
This year alone, she made a stand at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open where she outfoxed her first-round challenger.
She is currently at No. 89 in the U.S., the highest she's ever been, and just recently made the top 100 in the world—the youngest female to ever be ranked that high.
As a player who relies on her strength, imagine how far she'll go when she streamlines her ground game, en route to becoming a more heady player.
Don't look too hard at Sock's rankings, U.S. or world, because you might be staring for a long time wondering if he'll ever make the leaps and bounds required to become a top player.
He is the epitome of a player, like his fellow inexperienced peers, who need to be molded and handled with caution.
So far, the 19-year-old has done quite well for himself, winning the U.S. Open Junior tournament last year, the USTA boys' 18 nationals and reaching the pinnacle of his career up to this point, reigning victorious in mixed doubles at the 2011 U.S. Open with Melanie Oudin.
Additional feats like reaching the finals of the USA F3 tournament are indicative of a player who has yet to scratch the surface of what he's capable of.
With his potential on full display, Sock is already drawing comparisons to Andy Roddick, who has gone on record saying that his doppelganger on the court can attain whatever he desires so long as he continues playing with aggression.
Unlike other American tennis "neophytes," whose futures ride on hope and potential, Mardy Fish is already a venerable player in his profession.
He has accolades and a plethora of on-court experiences under his belt, including but not limited to an Olympic silver medal, the designation of being the top U.S. player in the world (eclipsing Andy Roddick this past April) and being No. 7 in the world, overall.
Certainly, Fish has to swim even harder upstream to surpass those who rank ahead of him.
Celebrated as already a top 10 player in the world, the competition, expectations and need to execute carry a vast burden of responsibility and stress unknown to those who are not in the top percentile of their jobs.
Taken together, these factors could serve as rational reasons for why Fish has reached the peak of his career with nowhere to go but downstream.
Yet the one important realization many forget is the fact that Mardy's competition exemplifies an upper echelon of skill of which he, the 29-year-old, is in the company of.
After years of on-court travails, he has now taken a seat amongst elite company; the challenge is staying there.
Unequivocally, if Mardy puts forth the dedication he has already demonstrated in spades (i.e., losing 30 pounds to increase speed, improving his forehand), the only person who can put a stamp on what is achievable in 2012 is Mardy himself.