Category: Young Gun Focus

Young guns to watch on the ITF Tour

THE International Tennis Federation (ITF) is well and truly stacked with developing talent, and Draft Central is beginning to delve into the young guns coming up through the ranks emphasising those who have burst onto the scene and showcased some exciting qualities in their junior years. While many of these players are beginning to feed into the ATP and WTA Tours, there are some great youngsters who are yet to break into the fold and will look to build on their 2020 form heading into the new year. All rankings are as of November 30, 2020,

Junior boys

Carlos Alcaraz (ESP)

Age: 17
ATP Tour ranking: 141

An exciting youngster looking to really break onto the ATP Tour scene is Alcaraz, with the developing Spaniard proving he is more than capable of producing excellent wins. With five titles to his name in 2020, including three clay court Challengers to go with his two M15 hard court titles, there is no doubt Alcaraz has the star power to continue propelling himself up the rankings and hitting some real strides.

Lorenzo Musetti (ITA)

Age: 18
ATP Tour ranking: 128

The young Italian is the second ranked youngster on the ATP Tour at the moment, and it shows in his consistency and drive to continue going one better. While still developing his craft and looking to continue his strong efforts against top 100 players, Musetti has showcased plenty of potential on Tour since debuting in 2019, and will look to keep his strong run going in 2021.

Brandon Nakashima (USA)

Age: 19
ATP Tour ranking:
166

American youngster Nakashima is a talent worth keeping an eye on, with the ability to be the next big thing credit to his high work rate and powerful swing. Like Musetti, Nakashima’s ability to shock top 100 players has been a key to developing his skill, flourishing on wildcard entries and using his athleticism to fly out of the blocks. Currently at his peak ranking and steadily developing, look to see Nakashima continue well into 2021.

Harold Mayot (FRA)

Age: 18
ITF Tour ranking:
1
ATP Tour ranking: 
426

ITF world number one Mayot is an exciting developing talent, with the 2020 Junior Australian Open title under his belt and a proven winning ability. With plenty of tenacity and determination, Mayot still has a way to go before truly impacting on the ATP Tour scene, but there is no doubt he will get there once he further develops against strong, more experienced bodies.

Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune (DEN)

Age: 17
ITF Tour ranking: 2
ATP Tour ranking: 511

A consistent performer on the ITF Tour, Rune is one to watch in the future. While he did not win a Challenger tournament, as was his 2020 goal, three M15 titles on the senior ITF Tour is certainly nothing to sniff about. More than that, and it proves the 17-year-old is more than capable of competing against those bigger bodies in the future, especially on his preferred surface of clay.

Dominic Stephan Stricker (SUI)

Age: 18
ITF Tour ranking: 3

While Stricker is yet to really break onto the ATP Tour scene, the youngster has proven he is ready to step up to the next level and with a current ranking of third on the ITF rankings, there is no doubt he has the capacity to do so when he gets an opportunity – and an uninterrupted season. A Junior Roland Garros title in 2020 and the likes of Roger Federer to look up to certainly will aid in his progression heading into 2021.

Junior girls

Coco Gauff (USA)

Age: 16
WTA Tour ranking: 48

One of the most high profile young guns in the world at the moment, Gauff is the gift that keeps on giving with her rate of development and potential given how far she has come in such a short time. Still just 16-years-old, Gauff’s  ability to leave it all on the court and command victory as an underdog – including two straight sets victories over Venus Williams – have seen her rocket into media attention.

Daria Lopatetska (UKR)

Age: 17
WTA Tour ranking: 355

Another exciting youngster breaking onto the scene is Lopatetska, with the versatile Ukrainian able to put out excellent efforts across a range of surfaces and, even with an interrupted season following on from major knee surgery in 2019, has showcased plenty of grit and determination to get back out there. With a heap of potential and Elina Svitolina on her side, it is only a matter of time before Lopatetska is back on the cards.

Katrina Scott (USA)

Age: 16
WTA Tour ranking: 447

Scott may still be only 16-years-old, but her exciting potential has seen her rocket into contention on the WTA Tour alongside Gauff, following her compatriot’s footsteps onto the senior rankings well before expected. A competitive youngster who has showed no signs of stopping since her debut at the 2020 US Open as a wildcard, expect Scott to continue developing and keep the USA superpower going as she heads up the rankings.

Polina Kudermetova (RUS)

Age: 17
ITF Tour ranking: 6
WTA Tour ranking: 775

The younger sister of Veronika Kudermetova, there is no doubt 17-year-old Polina knows what it takes really break onto the WTA Tour stage. While she has not really made it there yet – in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic and limited court time – the Russian youngster is a proven winner throughout the years and, with an ability to fight every second, will look to continue developing with more time in 2021.

Elsa Jacquemot (FRA)

Age: 17
ITF Tour ranking: 1
WTA Tour ranking: 535

The 2020 Junior Roland Garros winner and current world number one on the junior ITF Tour, Jacquemot is one to watch in the future. With two titles to her name in 2020 and a whopping 89 per cent win rate – 12 straight on clay – the French 17-year-old may not have broken onto the WTA Tour just yet but certainly has the proven winning ability to be a huge threat on Tour.

Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva (AND)

Age: 15
ITF Tour ranking: 2

The youngest player on this list is 15-year-old Andorran Jimenez Kasintseva, and while she is still developing her court craft there is no denying she is a star of the future, holding the Junior Australian Open title in 2020 and only leaving top spot on the ITF rankings when Jacquemot took out the Roland Garros title. With an overall win rate of 88 per cent and just three losses on tour, expect big things from the young gun.

WTA Teenage Stars – Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva

WHILE this 15-year-old Andorran may not be on your radar quite yet, Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva is one to watch in the future with her youth and potential making her a hugely exciting player coming up the ranks on tour. While not technically yet on the WTA Tour singles rankings, Jimenez Kasintseva is a left-handed talent with plenty to prove, going from being ranked 25th on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Junior world rankings in 2019, to rocketing into top spot after winning the 2020 Junior Australian Open on her major debut. She is now nestled comfortably in second on the rankings, only behind Elsa Jacquemot after the French 17-year-old took out the Junior Roland Garros.

Looking at what makes Jimenez Kasintseva such a threatening youngster, and her father’s professional experience in tennis is one of the standout reasons why. While Joan Jimenez Guerra did not make it into the top 500 in his day – 1999 – his elite tennis knowledge and coaching expertise has allowed the now 15-year-old to develop at a rate of knots.  

“It’s my parents that gave me that fighting spirit. It’s them. It’s just (who I am),” Jimenez Kasintseva said, following her Australian Open title. “I’m competitive in and out of the court. I was born with it. But also, losing is learning and if you want to be a tennis player, you have to learn to lose. It’s part of the game.”

Factoring in Jimenez Kasintseva’s proven competitiveness and never-say-die attitude – with four of her six wins at the Australian Open coming in three sets – and the youngster’s clear affinity for all surfaces, with 21 wins and just three losses to her name in 2020, there is no doubt she will be a force to be reckoned with over the coming years.

“At the moment of victory in Australia, I don’t remember what I was thinking – I was just so happy,” she said ahead of the Junior Roland Garros in late September. “It was something so different to me and a unique feeling. I didn’t think I would be in that position.”

Following her history-making win for Andorra in January, tennis has proved hard to come by due to the restrictive nature of COVID-19 and its continuous repercussions. While the ITF Tour continued in August alongside both the WTA and ATP Tours, the youngster has been limited in how much she can compete but collected her first win out of lockdown, the J1 Plovdiv Cup tournament in Bulgaria in late October.

“With lockdown, I lost track of my tennis a little bit,” she said. “It has been very hard for me to come back and I have had some tough moments and some tough tournaments.”

With very little experience on the professional tour, it still remains to be seen whether Jimenez Kasintseva can take that next step and provide a thorn in the side of more than just players her own age. That being said, with eight ITF titles over 2019/20 – six alone in 2019 –  across five different ITF grades, the youngster has proven she is more capable of stepping up to the next level, and seems to flourish at each progression.

“I try to go step by step… I will see. I just go little by little. I don’t want to rush. Tournament by tournament.”

While the 2021 Junior Australian Open has unfortunately been delayed due to COVID-19 limitations around international travel to Melbourne in January, the youngster will be relieved to know she has a real chance of backing up her maiden win and proving it was more than a one-time victory.

Young gun focus: Brandon Nakashima

A QUALITY young American talent, Brandon Nakashima is a solid prospect having stepped up to the ATP Tour in 2020, and while he is still ranked at 220 in the world, at 18-years-old he has plenty of skill, determination and development that will surely see him go far.

With laser focus and intensity coming in spades, Nakashima took to the ATP Tour like a duck to water, challenging a couple quality names in early 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic which inevitably put his growth to a halt. With an affinity for the hard court and a strong backhand, Nakashima may not have a heap of ATP Tour experience as of yet but has made his presence felt on the court in the tournaments that were able to go ahead earlier in the year, winning 12 of his 17 outings – albeit all ATP Challenger tournaments bar one – and also winning an ITF Futures title in the process. He stayed close to home to start his first season on the Tour, only playing in the United States thus far and inevitably taking on plenty of compatriots.

Coached in part by Australian Grand Slam winner Pat Cash, the 18-year-old is highly-touted and for good reason, with an ability to take charge of a match with ease and really challenge some tough higher ranked opponents. While still developing and growing in consistency, the American young gun really proved his potential and impressive talent in February, taking on a couple of top 100 talents, defeating Britain’s Cameron Norrie (60th in the world) and Czech Jiri Vesely (74th) in straight sets and challenging both Frances Tiafoe (79th) and Yoshihito Nishioka (63rd) in tight losses.

With a high ceiling and still so young, expect Nakashima to be one to watch out for in future years with plenty of time to tap into his exciting hard-hitting potential.

Young Gun Focus: Iga Swiatek

A TALENTED speedster with an attacking mentality and plenty of oomph, it is hard to believe that the Poland 49th ranked talent Iga Swiatek is only 19 years old. A right-hander with plenty of speed, resilience and hard-hitting, Swiatek uses her swift movement and continuous barrage of hits to wear down her opponent making her a threatening fixture on the Tour. 

While Swiatek has not won her maiden WTA title as of yet, 2020 is just her second year on the Tour with four, two and one ITF titles in the previous three years proving she is a force to be reckoned with on Tour. Add in the fact that she finished as a finalist at Lugano in her first WTA season and reached the fourth round at the Roland Garros just last year, and the young talent is more than capable of being an excellent player on the circuit once she has an opportunity to develop. 

Jumping to 2020, Swiatek made it to the Round of 16 at the Australian Open, with her drive and improvement apparent and coming in spades after going down in the early stages at Melbourne Park in 2019. Showing great signs on both clay and hard court, Swiatek is a powerful youngster who still has much to both improve and prove on the WTA circuit, while her 2018 Wimbledon Junior title makes her a quality all-rounder when it comes to the court, with the proof left in the pudding whether she can continue to hold up that level and take out a couple of titles once play resumes in 2020. 

With a 78.3 per cent win rate across her career thus far and a fraction lower at 71.4 for 2020, Swiatek is already a talent, with thanks to her ability to perform across multiple surfaces and ply her trade with ease. Factor in her 25 aces but 18 double faults to her name from six matches played in 2020, and Swiatek is a quality hard hitter who could really benefit from the time off safely within the top 50, able to really hone in her serving craft and rack up a bit more of the defensive play style she perhaps lacks on the WTA Tour, to make for a more well rounded player once the season returns. 

Having leaped up the rankings last season and earlier this year, Swiatek will want to prove that she is more than just a one-time top 50 player and maintain her winning rate to continue plying her trade at this level.

Young Gun focus: Aryna Sabalenka

BELARUSIAN Aryna Sabalenka is one of the rising stars of women’s tennis. After finishing 2018 with eight wins over top 10 opponents and the 11th overall ranking, she came into 2019 with lofty expectations.

Sabalenka won three titles this year, all of which took place in China (WTA Elite Trophy, Shenzhen Open and Wuhan Open) She reached a career-high ranking of ninth in February, but failed to maintain this due to poor Grand Slam performances. Sabalenka was upset by American teenager Amanda Anisimova at the Australian and French Opens in the third and second rounds respectively, then lost her opening round match at Wimbledon to 139th ranked Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2 6-4. At the US Open, she lost in the second round to Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva 6-3 7-6.

Thanks to strong performances at minor hard court tournaments, Sabelenka had a positive 2019 win-loss of 39-22 and remains ranked 11th overall. Her shot selection continues to improve, and her rapid serve and powerful groundstrokes are major weapons. She must improve her Grand Slam performances before being considered one of the top female players in the world, but the 21-year-old has enormous potential and her best should challenge top ten players in 2020.

Young Gun focus: Frances Tiafoe

AMERICAN Frances Tiafoe had an up and down season in 2019. His best result came at the Australian Open, where he made his first Grand Slam quarter final. He toppled top 20 players Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov to get there, before losing to number two seed Rafael Nadal in straight sets.

After this, things went downhill for Tiafoe. He failed to defend his title at the Delray Beach Open, losing to Great Britain’s Daniel Evans in the first round, and did not win more than one match at the following two tournaments. Tiafoe reached the quarter finals at the Miami Open, but at Roland Garros he had a tough five-set loss in the first round to Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic, while suffering from illness. At Wimbledon, he pushed 10th seed Fabio Fognini to five sets in an impressive first round showing, but struggled at the other grass court tournaments.

Tiafoe was better on hard courts, making the quarter finals at the Winston-Salem and European Opens. He finished the year with a second-round defeat at the US Open to German Alexander Zverev in five sets, and a semi-final berth at the Next Gen ATP Finals.

Overall, Tiafoe should be happy with his 2019 season. He finished the year ranked 47th with a win-loss record of 23-27, and reaching a Grand Slam quarter final is a great achievement for a 21-year-old. However, he remains heavily reliant on his forehand and athleticism to dominate matches, and must improve his backhand and second serve to progress further up the rankings. In 2020, Tiafoe should look to continue his impressive hard court form and have more consistent results at minor tournaments.

Young Gun focus: Alexander Zverev

GERMAN youngster Alexander Zverev is one of tennis’ bright young stars. He finished 2018 with consecutive straight set victories over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic en route to winning the biggest title of his career, the ATP Finals. As such, Zverev came into 2019 with the number four ranking and lofty expectations that were difficult to live up to.

Overall, Zverev had an up and down season in 2019. He started with a fourth round exit at the Australian Open to Milos Raonic in straight sets, before coming runner-up to Nick Kyrgios at the Mexican Open. Zverev struggled at his next six tournaments, failing to win more than one match in any of them.

He turned his form around in May, winning his only title of 2019 at the Geneva Open before reaching the French Open quarter finals, where he was defeated by Djokovic 7-5 6-2 6-2. This form did not continue at Wimbledon, as he suffered a shock loss in the first round to Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely in four sets. Zverev blamed his mental state for the loss, and said “my confidence is below zero right now”. He regained some confidence in strong performances at the German Open and Canadian Open, and finished the year with a fourth round berth at the US Open and by coming runner-up at the Shanghai Masters.

Zverev ended the year ranked seventh overall with a win-loss of 44-25. Wins over Federer and Rafael Nadal late in the year proved that he is capable of beating top quality players when he is composed, focused and dominating court position. Confidence and consistency are his main issues, as a lack of confidence often leads to him being less aggressive from the baseline. When this happens, he can fall victim to lower ranked opponents that he is expected to beat. In 2020, Zverev is capable of reaching a Grand Slam final if he can play aggressive tennis consistently, particularly on hard courts.

Young Gun focus: Alex de Minaur

AUSTRALIA’S Alex “Demon” de Minaur burst onto the scene in 2019, winning his first title on home soil at the Sydney International. He finished the 2019 year with three titles – Atlanta and Zhuhai the other two – becoming a developing force on hard court and one to watch at next year’s Australian Open. While still raw and prone to the odd blowout, his exciting strokes and powerful running see him as one of the next big things, particularly from an Australian perspective.

In 2019, he won 32 of a possible 50 matches, seven of which came at Grand Slams. To win titles on three continents showed de Minaur’s ability to win both at home and away, beating some quality players along the way. Ultimately though, consistency is still an area de Minaur can improve, with the US Open a perfect example. He knocked off world number seven, Kei Nishikori in four sets, before going down to Grigor Dimitrov – who was returning from injury this year. Less impressive was his five-set Wimbledon loss to Steve Johnson, and his straight sets exit against Pablo Carena Busta – who restricted him to just five games in that match. At the Australian Open, it was Rafael Nadal who showed him how far it is to the top, with a 6-1 6-2 6-4 trouncing. With two top 10 scalps – Nishikori and then Roberto Bautista Agut – this year, de Minaur has the potential to challenge the best, but is not yet at his most consistent – again shown by a straight sets loss to Roger Federer recently.

Looking ahead to the future, de Minaur could easily become a top 10 player in 2020, but will need to iron out the consistency, particularly losses to lower ranked players, especially on his preferred hard surface. Expect him to go through the same pathway in January, and prepare for the Australian Open with a chance at defending his title in Sydney.