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With the 2021 Australian Open starting Monday, a number of young players with high potential will be hoping to create a big impact over the coming fortnight. Here are eight to watch…
The Australian Open starts Monday, although this was in some doubt earlier this week. A confirmed positive case of Covid-19 from a hotel worker ensured Thursday’s play in the warm-up events was postponed, with all players needing to retest negative in order for the tournaments to continue. They did on Friday, although with an adjusted format in the WTA matches, and also included a number of withdrawals and retirements with players keen not to overplay or worsen small injuries in advance of the first major of the year.
Given the financial and ranking point rewards on offer in Grand Slams, player caution isn’t a huge surprise. Even a run to the quarter-finals yields more ranking points (360) than winning a 250 level tournament, and a strong performance in Slams can dramatically improve a player’s ranking. Young players in particular have the potential to benefit from this, with Slam points often replacing Challenger/ITF ranking points on the rolling ranking point calendar for them, so they can have huge upside.
Here are eight young players of various ranking levels to follow (four men’s, four women’s) who can impress in the coming two weeks, and beyond.
Odds quoted are correct at the time of writing, but please check the site for the latest odds.
ATP: Four young men to watch
Andrey Rublev - Age 23, Rank 8.
The Russian had a magnificent breakthrough season in 2020, winning five tournaments on the main tour. This would be a stunning achievement in a normal season, but to do it in a year where five months were cut from the calendar is simply magnificent. This helped Rublev improve his ranking from 23 to 8 last year, and he will be looking to progress further than his fourth round finish at Melbourne Park last time out. Rublev only lost four times on hard court last year (with a winrate of over 80%) and with superb year-long data, is clearly a player on a strong upward curve. He could easily reach the business end of this tournament.
Alex De Minaur - Age 21, Rank 23.
It’s easy to forget that De Minaur is still just 21 years of age, given that he reached his first Challenger final in 2016 and first main tour final in 2018. After a tricky 2020, where he reached just one final and produced unremarkable data and winrates, he’s already won a hard court title in 2021 after winning in Antalya in the opening week of the season. De Minaur is something of a hard court specialist with excellent numbers on his preferred surface, and will be looking to reach the quarter-finals at least in his home Grand Slam - he is certainly capable.
Jannik Sinner - Age 19, Rank 36.
Sinner burst onto the scene when he won a Challenger title aged just 17, and subsequently lifted his first ATP trophy indoors in Sofia in November 2020, aged 19. He also defeated De Minaur in the Next Gen final at the end of 2019, rubber-stamping his huge potential which has seen him rise over 500 places in the world rankings in less than two years. While Sinner hasn’t had much exposure on outdoor hard courts so far in his career, his numbers on indoor hard courts are very strong indeed for a 19-year-old, and he looks a future star in the making.
Emil Ruusuvuori - Age 21, Rank 86.
Moving down the rankings to a lower-profile talent, it will be fascinating to see how Ruusuvuori progresses in this tournament. He’s drawn the enigmatic Frenchman, Gael Monfils (who has lost his last six matches) in round one, but should he win that he could conceivably progress to round four, where he’d be scheduled to meet Alexander Zverev. Despite only having won 50% of his main tour hard court matches in his short career so far, his underlying data from a small sample of main tour matches, plus his Challenger level numbers, suggest he’s quite a bit better than this and is a player of rich potential.
WTA: Four young women to watch
Bianca Andreescu - Age 20, Rank 8.
The Canadian talent won a Premier Mandatory level (equivalent to ATP Masters 1000) event in March 2019, aged just 18 in Indian Wells, before doing the same in Toronto several months later, beating Serena Williams. She again got the better of the American legend in the 2019 US Open, and a procession to the top of the rankings looked a formality. However, an injury picked up in China towards the end of 2019 and the subsequent Covid-19 pandemic meant that she didn’t play a single competitive match in 2020 and thus has plenty to prove in Melbourne. Her previous numbers suggest she could be a future number one, but we don’t know the impact of missing 2020 at this current time.
Elena Rybakina, Age 21, Rank 19.
Rybakina broke into the top 20 just before the tour stopped in March, after a run to the final of the Dubai Premier Mandatory. In that, she lost a final set tiebreak to Simona Halep, aptly illustrating her superb potential on hard court. In 2020, in main tour matches on the surface, Rybakina won almost 80% of those which she competed in - a superb winrate for a player who was just 20 years of age for half of the year. She’s certainly one of the players that no seed will want in their bracket in the Australian Open.
Marketa Vondrousova, Age 21, Rank 21.
Vondrousova served notice of her huge potential with a run to the final of the French Open in 2019 aged just 19, and while she’s been a little inconsistent since that stunning breakthrough Grand Slam, she has better underlying data on hard courts than her results would indicate. Vondrousova remains a player with high upside and a strong run at the Australian Open would not be a surprise.
Marta Kostyuk, Age 18, Rank 78.
(Updated - 8 Feb) The youngest player on this list, Kostyuk’s odds to win before play started put her around 20th in the outright market despite her ranking, which clearly indicates that the betting markets have worked out that she is a highly talented player. Alas, after a slow start, she lost to the 32-seed Veronika Kudermetova 2-6, 6-7 (5-7), though given her ranking, this may well be forgiven.
Nonetheless, having reached the semi-final of the Abu Dhabi Premier in the opening week of the season, and with her stunning numbers - particularly on return - on the lower ITF Tour, which should still translate to an extremely high level on the main tour as her career progresses. Despite this loss, she still has potential to make a huge breakthrough on the WTA Tour this year.
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