‘Ones to Watch’ is a limited series about young sportspeople who Boar Sport writers expect to enjoy success this year. In our third article, Sam Warner selects four tennis players he expects big things from over the next twelve months.
The upcoming tennis season will be an extremely interesting one, not only due to the chaotic schedule as a result of the pandemic, but also because of changes within the sport’s hierarchy.
Over the past year, we have seen cracks begin to form in the Big Three’s armour. We welcomed a new Grand Slam winner at the US Open when Dominic Thiem capitalised on the absence of a few of the big names. Whether or not 2021 sees the complete overthrow of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic remains to be seen. Regardless, a huge year of tennis awaits.
Dominic Thiem became a household name after he entered the top-10 following a noteworthy performance at Roland Garros 2016. He has continually pressured the top players since notably racking up sixteen wins against the Big Three. 2020 was undoubtedly Thiem’s most successful year to date. He reached his third Grand Slam final at the start of the year, later winning the US Open. In 2021, he will definitely be among the favourites to win a Grand Slam. Thiem himself has said: “I want to win a Major in 2021, that’s my main goal.”
One of the players who really capitalised on the disjointed 2020 season was young Russian star Andrey Rublev. He won the most ATP titles (5) and tied world number one Novak Djokovic with 41 tour-level victories. However, his most impressive achievement was reaching the ATP Finals for the first time.
Rublev’s all-court game will help him challenge in all tournaments throughout the year
Rublev rose from No.23 in the world to reach a year-end ranking of No.8, an extremely impressive jump. This epitomises his consistency throughout a challenging year, in which he was able to win three ATP 500 Titles. If Rublev is able to continue this form into the new year, he will definitely be in contention at the bigger tournaments and a cause for concern for any opponent. His all-court game will help him challenge in all tournaments throughout the year.
19-year-old Jannik Sinner is currently the youngest player in the Top 100 and had a very impressive breakthrough season in 2020. He leapt up the rankings, starting the year at No.78, ending at No.37. Roger Federer’s coach, Ivo Ljubicic, praised Sinner to the Italian press saying he is “pure talent, in the technical, mental and physical terms.”
Sinner’s aggressive and exciting play will captivate fans this year
Sinner’s debut at Roland Garros this year made a huge statement as he reached the quarterfinals, defeating World No.7 Alexander Zverev along the way. He then went on to seal his breakthrough season by becoming the youngest ATP Tour titleholder in 12 years, when he lifted the Sofia Open trophy. His aggressive and exciting play will captivate fans this year as he continues to push further up the rankings.
Lorenzo Musetti is a personal favourite of mine as his single-handed backhand makes me reminisce of a young Federer. Musetti made his ATP Tour debut last February in Dubai losing to Andrey Rublev. He then entered the Rome ATP 1000 as World No. 249 going on to stun Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori in back-to-back matches to reach the third round. He carried this momentum forward to win his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Forlì. If he is able to take this form into the new year, he will be a definite contender in many of the ATP events.
I have deliberately left out Nadal and Djokovic, as they will already be on all of our lists as favourites. I have also omitted Federer, but I, alongside many other Federer fans, hope that he will quickly find his form in 2021 after his extensive absence due to injury. The list I have made is in order of those most likely to win the major events in the ATP calendar, but all will be equally exciting to watch this coming year.