Talented young players useful to profile in advance of seasons
Every year on the tennis tour sees new players break through and on numerous occasions these young prospects are often available at big prices while the market works out their current and future levels. Essentially, the vast majority of their exposure usually takes place on the Challenger Tour and at least to start with, people often find it difficult to compare their Challenger levels in matches against main tour regulars.
This is further complicated by the tendency for these Challenger players breaking through to be on an upward ability curve, and often a steep one. If a player is producing far above average numbers on the Challenger Tour at around the age of 20, they are likely to be able to improve further on the main tour and adjust quicker than, say, a player in their late 20s who is having a late career renaissance.
Given this, here are 10 players who have plied their trade largely on the Challenger Tour in 2018 who have the potential to improve further this year and achieve some positive results on the main tour in 2020, or perhaps moving into 2021. They are all aged 22 or below, and while they certainly don't form a comprehensive list of talented players in this age bracket (there are players aged 22 or below already ranked higher) these are players could be capable of some big-priced winners on the main tour in the near future.
Sinner leads list of high potential young players
Jannik Sinner - Rank 78, Age 18, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 107.4%.
If I was asked to name one player of these ten who I think has the most potential to develop into an elite level player, it would be the Italian teenager, Sinner. His Challenger numbers in 2019 were incredible - particularly indoors - and this showed with a win in the Next Gen ATP Finals in November, where he beat players ranked around and inside the top 50 with relative ease, and then backed his up with a facile win in the Ortisei Challenger event the week later in his home country without dropping a set.
Sinner's next challenge is to convert these results to the main tour and will be looking to improve on his best showing so far, a semi-final berth in Antwerp in October.
Sinner to win the Australian open @ 170169/1
Mikael Ymer - Rank 74, Age 21, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 104.3%.
The younger of the two Ymer brothers and it is no surprise to see him usurp older brother Elias with Mikael's numbers being better for several years now. A rather return-orientated player (42.7% of return points won in Challengers in 2019), his stats show little deviation across surfaces and this should stand him in good stead as an all-courter on the main tour. He also won back-to-back Challenger events indoors at the end of the season, beating the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Aljaz Bedene and Jiri Vesely en route to these two titles.
Kwon can achieve strong results on hard courts
Corentin Moutet - Rank 83, Age 20, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 104.4%.
Moutet's struggled in the second half of 2019 but in my view this was largely due to him being something of a clay court specialist, and his Challenger clay numbers - not far shy of the 107% combined mark last season - illustrated his preference for that surface. Given these struggles across other surfaces, the market may well underestimate Moutet as the clay season begins in February and his numbers show he's very capable of some main tour victories on clay in 2020.
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina - Rank 87, Age 20, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 104.0%.
Across Challengers in 2019, Davidovich Fokina had very similar numbers to Moutet - again, rather return-orientated with just 60% of service points won at a lower level - but he's much less polarized towards clay than the Frenchman. This all-court ability in theory should benefit Fokina as he tries to make the step up to the main tour, with the potential to be more consistent throughout the season.
Soonwoo Kwon - Rank 88, Age 22, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 108.1%.
I mentioned Kwon as a potential long-shot option several times in outrights, with him being priced around the 50/1 mark in several 250 level tournaments in the autumn.
While he didn't reach the latter stages in these events, he picked up wins over the likes of Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet which shows his solid ability on hard courts - statistically his best surface, particularly outdoors. Kwon could well be an interesting underdog option in matches in the opening weeks of the season on those outdoor hard courts.
Ruusuvuori one to watch coming into 2020
Emil Ruusuvuori - Rank 123, Age 20, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 107.2%.
Ruusuvuori's rise from around the 400 rank mark at the start of last season was stunning, reaching finals on all of indoor and outdoor hard, as well as clay in 2019.
In fact, the Finnish talent made five Challenger finals, winning four of them, and has shown a particular aptitude for hard courts, especially indoors. With some smart scheduling, he could well cause a stir in some of the weaker events in the European indoor season early in 2020 and may even provide an extreme long-shot each way option at some stage in these. One of the biggest prospects in this article.
JJ Wolf - Rank 188, Age 21, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 105.8%.
Wolf burst onto the Challenger scene with a win in Columbus on indoor hard in January 2019, but he's struggled with consistency throughout the year losing a number of matches priced as a favourite.
However, towards the end of the year he reached another final in Columbus in September, before winning in Champaign while beating players with much more main tour experience. These three Challenger finals were all indoors, so it's no surprise to see that his indoor numbers are very strong - he ran at almost 109% combined on that surface last season - so keep an eye out for him in favourable conditions.
Alejandro Tabilo - Rank 213, Age 22, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 103.2%.
I have found Tabilo to be quite under-rated in Challengers last season by the market, with the Chilean being particularly strong during the second quarter of 2019, predominantly on clay.
However, stats show that he has the potential to be an all-courter, and he could well be another player who could benefit from smart scheduling - targeting qualifiers in weak events - in order to break through to the main tour in 2020.
Korda following in footsteps of famous father
Francisco Cerundolo - Rank 248, Age 21, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 102.8%.
The Argentine, Cerundolo, broke through into Challengers around halfway through 2019 and picked up some impressive results on his preferred clay. He's picked up wins over the likes of Paolo Lorenzi, Hugo Dellien and Attila Balazs already across the last three months of last season and will be looking to make an impact in the South American clay swing early in 2020.
My concern for him will be a relatively weak serve - he won fewer than 60% of service points in Challengers last season - which will be likely to be more exposed against higher quality opposition on the main tour.
Sebastian Korda - Rank 249, Age 19, 2019 Challenger combined service/return points won 102.8%.
Son of former Australian Open winner Petr Korda (who is also his coach), Sebastian finished 2019 on a positive note by reaching the final indoors in Champaign - losing a final set tiebreak to the aforementioned JJ Wolf - and this was the second Challenger final of last season for the 19 year old, with him also being runner-up in Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan in July.
Reaching two Challenger finals at the age of 18/19 while being ranked outside the top 500 at the start of last year is extremely impressive, and he'll be looking to kick on in 2020 by going one better on the Challenger Tour as well as attempting to pick up victories in some main tour outings.
Hopefully this analysis of some young prospects on the ATP Tour has proven useful to readers, and I'll be returning before the start of the new campaign with a similar discussion on some of the most talented low-profile WTA players as well.
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