Tennis in 2019: Young players to watch during the new season
With the 2019 tennis season getting underway this week, we asked Dan Weston for a statistical view on some of the young prospects to look out for this year...
"Some of the players listed below may not reach the top 10 or top 20 heights that the aforementioned players have already been able to achieve, but they should be capable of rapidly improving their ranking, and also winning some main tour matches at juicy underdog prices, in the near future."
Changing of the guard theme likely to continue
One of the main themes of the last few seasons has been the gradual 'changing of the guard' with older players, and big names, in the winters of their careers. Certainly, a number of young prospects are beginning to show their talents on a consistent basis.
This has been in evidence on both the ATP and WTA Tours, with the likes of Alexander Zverev, Karen Khachanov and Borna Coric making a big impact in the men's game, while Naomi Osaka, Daria Kasatkina and Aryna Sabalenka have done similarly in the women's format as well.
High potential young players can provide juicy underdog winners
My numbers show that they could soon be joined by some further excellent young prospects, most of whom are a little more lower-profile than some who are tipped for success. These players have statistically have shown that they have high potential levels, either already on the main tour, or in the lower-level Challenger or ITF Tours.
Some of the players listed below may not reach the top 10 or top 20 heights that the aforementioned players have already been able to achieve, but they should be capable of rapidly improving their ranking, and also winning some main tour matches at juicy underdog prices, in the near future.
De Minaur leading some of the lower-profile ATP prospects
Alex de Minaur (Age 19, Rank 31) - Of all the players in the list, De Minaur, who turns 20 in February, has been able to boast the best combined service/return points won percentage (101.6%) in main tour matches in the last 12 months. Already into the quarter-finals in Brisbane this week, and a runner-up in the Next Gen finals in November, having such decent data at his age makes De Minaur likely to impress in 2019, although his clay data shows he has some improving to do on that particular surface.
Matteo Berrettini (Age 22, Rank 54) - The serve-orientated Berrettini had his breakthrough year on the main tour last season, taking the title on the clay in Gstaad with an impressive win over top 20 player Roberto Bautista-Agut, and while his 100.5% combined service/return points won percentage in the last 12 months is decent, it's his 107.3% figure from Challengers that marks him out as one to considerably improve - numbers better than all of the young prospects in this article on that particular tour.
Norrie with the potential to create British interest
Cameron Norrie (Age 23, Rank 90) - Hopes for another top 50 Brit in 2019 lie with Cameron Norrie, and with a 100.8% combined serve/return points won percentage in main tour events in the last 12 months, he should be able to reach that goal in the coming year. Has already started his season in promising fashion, with underdog wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas and Frances Tiafoe in the Hopman Cup.
Reilly Opelka (Age 21, Rank 99) - As John Isner advances into his mid 30s, fans of the big-serving American need not fear - a clone is already on the horizon. At the age of 21, Opelka is already boasting superb service numbers on the Challenger Tour (72% service points won in the last 12 months) and having broken into the top 100, I expect him to be a threat on the quicker surfaces on the ATP Tour as well in the coming season and beyond.
Ugo Humbert (Age 20, Rank 102) - The Frenchman has made huge strides in 2018, improving his ranking from around 400 at the turn of the year to being on the cusp of the top 100. A superb winrate, almost at the 80% mark in hard court Challengers, was the foundation for this rapid improvement, helping him reach six finals (three titles) on either Hard or Indoor Hard courts.
George Harris (Age 21, Rank 127) - Another big riser in 2018, Harris upped his rank from just shy of the 300 mark during last season. As with a number of the players listed, Harris has thrived on hard courts, winning almost 80% in Challengers, and a 106.5% combined serve/return points percentage, and I anticipate that the South African will be able to shock a few ATP Tour regulars on the surface in the near future.
Miomir Kecmanovic (Age 19, Rank 131) - One of the younger players on the list, Kecmanovic has made a name for himself on the Challenger Tour during the latter six months of 2018. During this time period, he ran at 103.8% combined service points won percentage, and won almost 80% of his matches as well. While these numbers aren't quite as impressive as Humbert and Harris, Kecmanovic doesn't turn 20 years of age until the end of August, and the vast majority of his defeats in these matches were against high-level Challenger Tour players, or ATP regulars - he was very reliable as a solid favourite in matches.
Quinzi finally realising the potential shown as a junior
Gianluigi Quinzi (Age 22, Rank 155) - As a former number one junior, and a Wimbledon Junior title winner (beating Hyeon Chung and Kyle Edmund en route to the trophy, without dropping a set), Quinzi was tipped for big things at a young age. It's been a little while for him to start justifying this potential, but a superb 2018 - particularly on clay - has seen him improve his ranking to a point where he's not far from ATP main draw entry. On his favoured clay, he ran at 107.8% combined service/return points won in Challengers during 2018, so he might be one to keep an eye out for in some of the lower-level clay events on the ATP Tour during the coming season.
Yastremska already around top 20 level in the WTA
Dayana Yastremska (Age 18, Rank 58) - Yastremska broke onto the WTA tour during 2018 in great fashion, running at a superb 104.3% combined serve/return points won percentage in main tour matches. This is around top 20 level, and given her age and potential for further improvement, it wouldn't be a shock if she was able to progress further than this mark as well. This potential was evidenced by a title in Hong Kong - defeating the in-form Qiang Wang in the final - and semi-final immediately after in Luxembourg.
Vera Lapko (age 20, Rank 65) - the 20 year old Belarusian had an excellent 2018, winning over 50% of her main tour matches (101.3% combined serve/return points won percentage) and reaching a number of quarter-finals in main tour events in the last couple of months of the season. Lapko's ITF data is highly impressive as well, and indicate further upside for the coming years.
Tamara Zidansek (Age 21, Rank 79) - A clay-court specialist, Zidansek reached six finals in 2018, with five on the ITF Tour (including four titles, with one on hard court in Pune as well) and a further title in the Bol Challenger tournament as well. The Slovenian's numbers on her preferred surface are stratospheric (almost 110% combined serve/return points won percentage on the ITF Tour last season) and I'll be very surprised if she doesn't have a big impact on clay WTA tournaments in the future.
Gasparyan getting back to her best after long-term injury
Margarita Gasparyan (Age 24, Rank 92) - One of the older players in the list, Gasparyan is getting back to her best after long-term injuries. I originally identified her as a player of huge potential in 2015, and some excellent performances from September onwards last season (including a title in Tashkent) show that she has an excellent chance of justifying my faith in her in the future.
Anastasia Potapova (Age 17, Rank 93) - In her 14 main tour matches in the last 12 months, the 17 year old Potapova won nine, and ran at over 102% combined service/return points won - superb numbers for a player of her age. She reached two WTA finals (lost to Gasparyan in Tashkent, and Olga Danilovic - see below - in Moscow) and I anticipate further improvement in the coming year. However, given Potapova's less impressive ITF data, there is a chance that she could be a touch over-rated by the markets.
Anisimova starting her journey to elite level
Amanda Anisimova (Age 17, Rank 96) - If there is one prospect on the WTA Tour that I am most certain will be a future elite-level player, it is the American, Anisimova, who doesn't even turn 18 until the end of August. Already in the last 12 months she's won almost 70% of WTA main tour matches, running at a top-10 level of 106.5% combined service/return points won. Anisimova is also likely to make huge ranking gains in the first half of 2019 - she didn't win many points until her injury in March 2018, and then didn't play again until the end of July, so she is barely defending any points until this stage.
Olga Danilovic (Age 17, Rank 108) - Don't be fooled by the four consecutive defeats at the end of 2018, Danilovic is a player of very high potential indeed. This was in evidence in July, as she defeated Potapova - as well as Julia Goerges - on the clay of Moscow to win the title, and the 17 year old also took titles on her preferred clay in two ITF events (including defeating Laura Siegemund to win in Versmold in July). Danilovic has strong data both on the main tour and on the ITF Tour and can continue her rapid improvement in 2019 and beyond.
Marta Kostyuk (Age 16, Rank 119) - Kostyuk doesn't even turn 17 until June, but already has three main tour wins, as well as impressive ITF data for a player of her age - she reached two hard court finals during last season, and was runner-up in another event as well. Has already beaten the likes of Shuai Peng, Alize Cornet and Heather Watson in WTA main draw or qualifying events.
Andreescu already converting her potential into main tour victories
Bianca Andreescu (Age 18, Rank 152) - The markets have already pegged Andreescu as a player to watch, making her only a slight underdog for her win over Venus Williams today in Auckland. Andreescu already beat Caroline Wozniacki in the event prior to that win over Williams, and is coming off the back of a win in the Norman ITF event in November as well. This was one of four ITF finals for the Canadian in 2018, and her data in this lower-level tour (109% combined) was highly impressive indeed - definitely one to watch in the coming season.
Iga Swiatek (Age 17, Rank 186) - Ranked outside the top 700 at the start of 2018, Swiatek doesn't even turn 18 until the end of May, but has already won junior Wimbledon last season, and data makes her out to be one with very high potential indeed. Her ITF data (113.1% combined) is the best across all of the above WTA prospects, and her defeats were largely against players of strong levels (Allie Kiick, Mariana Duque-Marino, Madison Brengle). She's already got the better of main tour players Mona Barthel, Duque-Marino, Jana Cepelova and Silva Soler-Espinosa last season, and I anticipate she will gain a number of even higher-profile scalps in the coming year.
Harriet Dart leading British hopes among talented quartet
There are also a number of British women who have potential for improvement in the near future. 22 year old Harriet Dart (107.5% combined) has the best ITF data, although the younger duo of Katie Swan and Gabriella Taylor aren't far behind, and given their age, could conceivably have greater potential. 22 year old Katie Boulter is a little further behind (but higher in the rankings) and having broken the top 100, is another Brit that fans will be keen to see do well in 2019 and beyond.